February 29 is RSI Awareness Day in Canada

According to Canada's National Union of Public and General Employees, one in ten Canadians is affected by some type of repetitive stress injury (RSI), which is why the country has designated this Friday as RSI Awareness Day. The goal, NUPGE says, is to spread the word about the serious nature of the problem and "to urge governments at all levels to take RSI issues more seriously."

RSI includes specific disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, Guyon canal syndrome, lateral epicondylitis, tendonitis of the wrist or hand, and a host of other occupational injuries affecting the hands, wrists, and upper body areas--especially in the neck, shoulder, and arm--from repeated and excessive movement or long-term use of a given muscle set. By some estimates, the occurrence rate among adult workers in the United States is even higher than Canada's 10 percent. According to NIOSH, reports of repetitive motion injuries have risen dramatically in U.S. workplaces in recent years. The injuries, also sometimes referred to as "cumulative trauma disorders" are "being reported at alarming rates in all types of workplaces--from meatpacking plants to newspaper pressrooms," NIOSH says, noting that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "'disorders associated with repeated trauma' account for about 60 percent of all occupational illnesses."

"The problem has a negative impact on the lives of thousands of workers and imposes a significant cost on the economy as a result of lost days at work," NUPGE said in a press release. "While common, it is also an easily preventable injury. Simple changes to the work environment can avoid virtually all injuries of this type. Changes to the work station, ergonomically designed equipment and furniture and frequent short breaks to change activities and posture can prevent undue strain of muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons."

A report in the May 26, 2007, issue of the medical journal The Lancet notes that RSI remains a controversial topic. "Little is known about the effectiveness of treatment options for upper limb disorders. Strong evidence for any intervention is scarce and the effect, if any, is mainly short-term pain relief," the article says. "Exercise is beneficial for non-specific upper limb disorders. Immobilising hand braces and open carpal tunnel surgery release are beneficial for carpal tunnel syndrome, and topical and oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and corticosteroid injections are helpful for lateral epicondylitis. Exercise is probably beneficial for neck pain, as are corticosteroid injections and exercise for shoulder pain. Although upper limb disorders occur frequently in the working population, most trials have not exclusively included a working population or assessed effects on work-related outcomes. Further high-quality trials should aim to include sufficient sample sizes, working populations, and work-related outcomes."

The Canadian Labour Congress offers more information at its RSI Web page, http://canadianlabour.ca/index.php/repetitive_strain_in.

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