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RSI Handbook: What are RSIs?

A repetitive stress injury (RSI) is damage to body tissues -- muscles, tendons, spinal discs, blood vessels, and nerves -- caused by repeated physical stresses. RSIs are produced by a gradual build-up of tiny amounts of damage caused by repetitive motions involving the same few tendons or ligaments. Maintaining the same body posture for long periods of time -- as many jobs require -- contributes to developing RSIs, because such postures decrease blood supply to the working tissues, making it increasingly difficult for your body to repair itself.

Symptoms can range from mild aching to sharp, crippling pain. Symptoms often begin at work, then disappear during periods of rest. As the symptoms get worse, they begin to interfere with your usual work activities and disturb your sleep. Eventually, severe pain, limited mobility, loss of sensation, or muscle weakness make it impossible to perform key job tasks.

The first symptoms of injury are weakness of the injured area, trembling, and aches and pains. In an isolated incident, symptoms will disappear. If an RSI is developing, the symptoms will not disappear, even after you have stopped performing the task. At this point, you should see a doctor, or talk to your supervisor about ways to change your workstation or work methods.

What are the risk factors for work-related RSIs?

  • Repetition: doing the same motion hundreds of times each day, never giving your body a chance to rest and recover from the stress and strain
  • Awkward or stressful posture: repeated overhead motions; reaching down and behind your body; extreme bending of the elbow and extreme rotation of the lower arm; lifting, twisting, or bending your back or other parts of your body; holding a fixed position for long time
  • Forceful movements: using a lot of effort or strength to do the job, even in small movements like pinching your fingers or bending your wrist
  • Frequent and difficult lifting: in a badly-designed job, even 25-pound loads can cause injuries. Loads over 70 pounds are always dangerous for one person to lift.
  • Poorly-designed tools: too much vibration; handles that require strong grips or bent wrists or arms; sharp edges
  • Work organization/job design: the speed at which you work; the workload; job security, and lack of control over work can contribute to the development of RSIs.

Additional health symptoms and disorders -- including anxiousness, irritability, high blood pressure, ulcers, and headaches -- can be caused by poor work organization or job design.

There are also a number of non-work related risk factors, such as inherited conditions, pregnancy, obesity, medication, diseases, overall fitness levels, and others.

Are RSIs a problem for education support professionals?


Workers in every ESP job category are at risk of developing repetitive stress injuries.

  • Bus drivers repeatedly open and close manually-operated doors, repeatedly depress clutch and/or brake pedals, operate hand controls forcefully and quickly, and climb and descend bus steps hundreds of times a day. Women drivers’ bodies especially are stressed when using this equipment, since buses and other vehicles originally were designed by men for men. In addition, the job of safely transporting children is psychologically stressful.
  • Food service workers repeatedly reach above shoulder level and below knee level, reach across deep counters, twist sideways to reach food items, lift heavy equipment and trays, repeatedly bend hands and wrists when preparing food, and stand for long shifts.
  • Technical service workers and clerical workers perform repetitive keystroke motions on computers, work with back, shoulders, arms or hands in awkward positions due to improperly fitted work stations, and do continuous work in one position without breaks.
  • Skilled trades workers and custodians are subject to repeated muscle and skeletal stress from vibrating or badly designed tools, improper lifting, overhead work, prolonged kneeling, and bending and twisting.
  • Health and student services workers and security ESP are less at risk from repetitive motions than from psychological stress. Health workers are subject to occupational hazards such as exposure to diseases and contact with blood and other body fluids. Security staff face psychological stress from dealing with violent student and parent behavior. Working at a stressful job or in a stressful environment can contribute to and exacerbate physical symptoms.

Ergonomic Facts

  • Musculo-skeletal disorders account for 35% of all workplace injuries.
  • Nearly 1.8 million workers each year suffer from ergonomic injuries.
  • It is estimated that 50 cents of every dollar spent on medical costs will be for treating repetitive stress injuries.
  • Workers’ compensation claims have nearly tripled in the last two decades. An estimated 60% of this increase is attributed to inadequate ergonomic conditions in the workplace. Source: OSHA


  • anc_dyn_linksRepetitive Stress Injury Handbook: Introduction
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: What are RSIs?
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Types of RSIs
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: What you can do to prevent injuries and illnesses
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Job risks
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Health and Safety Committees
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Your legal rights
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Resources
  • anc_dyn_linksRSI Handbook: Glossary