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RSI Handbook: Types of RSIs

Most work-related repetitive stress injuries affect the upper part of the body -- the spinal column, neck, shoulders, arms and hands.

Hand and Arm Pain

The many bones of the hand and arms are joined together by a combination of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Because of this delicate combination, your hands, wrists, and arms are easily damaged when stressful movements are repeated frequently over time. Repetitive stress injuries of the hands and arms can be broken down into disorders of the tendons, nerves, and neurovascular (nerves and blood vessels) system.

Tendon disorders: Tendinitis results from overuse or stress on a tendon. Wrist and arm tendons often are affected. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and weakness in the hand, elbow, or shoulder. The way to treat this inflammation is to provide time for rest and recovery.

Nerve disorders: Nerve disorders are associated with the repeated exposure to contact stressors, such as sharp edges of tools or work surfaces, or even of adjacent bones, ligaments, or tendons. Perhaps the best known nerve disorder is carpal tunnel syndrome, which results when the median nerve in the wrist is compressed between the tendon and the bone. Carpal tunnel syndrome victims may experience numbness, tingling and pain in the thumb, index, middle finger and inner side of ring finger. Many of these symptoms will first occur away from work, often in bed. If untreated, it can result in progressive loss of strength in the hand and inability to grasp objects.

Clerical workers who rest their wrists on the sharp edge of their desk or food service workers who perform repetitious chopping or slicing motions risk developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Neurovascular disorders: One of the most common neurovascular disorders is thoracic outlet syndrome. This condition produces numbness in the fingers and a weakening of the pulse. The compression of blood vessels results from activities which pull the shoulders back and down, such as carrying a heavy pack, and work that requires constant overhead motions, like stacking dishes or supplies.

Neck and Shoulder Pain

The neck is frequently involved in workrelated discomfort and pain. Prolonged bending of the muscles of the neck is probably the most common cause of discomfort.

Clerical workers often experience neck discomfort from bending the neck down to read documents, up to view the computer monitor, or sideways to hold the telephone receiver between the head and the shoulder. Bus drivers report neck pain from craning to see their passengers in the mirror.

In addition, psychological stress, which usually increases the muscular tension throughout the body, is particularly critical to the muscles of the neck. Work-related shoulder disorders are often associated with job tasks where the elbow is kept in an elevated position. If your job requires you to keep your hands above your shoulder for significant periods day in and day out, you might develop a condition known as frozen shoulder.

Repeated motion of the arm away from the body can lead to a common shoulder disorder known as rotator cuff tendinitis. Bus drivers who repeatedly operate manual doors are prone to this condition, which is characterized by a persistent and dull pain in the shoulder region and discomfort in the arms.

Back Pain

Back injuries occur when people are forced to work for extended periods of time in awkward positions -- bent over, leaning forward or sideways -- and when they use poor lifting techniques. Because back injuries are difficult to treat, attention should be directed towards prevention, by designing the job and workplace to fit the worker. Every category of education support professional is at risk of back pain and injury because of their work.

Kinds of Back Injuries:

  • Back strains, caused when weak or tense muscles are stretched beyond their limit
  • Back sprains, caused by a partial or complete tear of a back ligament
  • Herniated discs, resulting when stress, strain, or gradual deterioration on a disc causes it to stick out between the vertebrae
  • Ruptured discs, caused when the wall of a disc breaks open


  • 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