How to Avoid Repetitive-Stress Injuries

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Todd Meier

Ergonomics. It’s almost become a buzzword in our industry. As a vocational case manager I’m trained to understand not only what it is but how to implement changes to prevent workplace injuries. In my experience, I’ve found some of the most common workplace injuries result from repetitive stress.

Types of Repetitive Stress Injuries

  • Tendinitis: Inflammation of a tendon that can result from repeating the same motion incorrectly or from an awkward position.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS): The squeezing of the median nerve at the bottom side of your wrist at the joint. CTS can result in grip loss, pain, numbness and weakness in the thumb and first two fingers.
  • Tenosynovitis: Inflammation of the covering of a tendon1 that can result from improper and/or repetitive bending of the wrist.

Avoiding Repetitive Stress Injuries

I often find that simple changes can help prevent some of these injuries. From stretching to using ergonomic keyboards, it is possible for employees to improve productivity and reduce the risk of injury.

  1. Stress relief breaks. When an employee sits in the same position for extended periods of time his or her muscles and joints can tighten. I always suggest employees try incorporating some office stretching into their everyday routine.
  2. Float your hands. Have your employee try having his or her hand and arm act as one unit above the keyboard and mouse to reduce excessive lateral movement at the wrist joint.
  3. Use more than one mouse. I often recommend using one trackball mouse and one conventional or ergonomically designed mouse.
  4. Change the speed of your cursor. This is especially important for employees who use multiple screens. To make this change, go to the computer’s control panel and click on “Accessibility Options.” Open the “Mouse” tab, and then fiddle with the speed to give greater cursor movement with less effort.
  5. Things to avoid:
    • Twisting combined with poor body posture
    • Excessive cold combined with repetitive movements
    • Prolonged standing without opportunities to change positions
    • Repetitive wrist movement while your wrist is bent
    • Repeated physical exertions with your entire body without utilizing correct posture
    • Repetitive movements without changing the method of the task

Our bodies were never meant to be in a static position or perform the same repetitive activity for prolonged periods. Putting some of these basic changes in action, such as taking a stretching break or increasing focus on body positioning, can help improve an employee’s workspace.


1 Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 30th edition, 2003