Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day

RSI Awareness Day is February 29th.

As the only “non-repetitive” day of the year, it’s the ideal date to devote to raising awareness of repetitive strain injuries (RSI). In years like this when there is no February 29, we observe RSI Awareness Day on February 28.

What Are Repetitive Strain Injuries?

RSI is a general term used to describe a variety of painful injuries that affect tendons, tendon sheaths, muscles, nerves, joints, and other soft tissues. They cause persistent or recurring pain most commonly in the neck, shoulders, forearms, hands, wrists, elbows, and lower limbs.

Millions of Canadians suffer from RSIs and of them, 55% of these injuries are caused by work-related activities.

Gripping, holding, bending, twisting, clenching, and reaching – these ordinary movements that we naturally make every day are not particularly harmful in the activities of our daily lives. What does make them hazardous in work situations though, is the continual repetition of the movements

As with any hazards, RSIs are best eliminated at the source which, in this case, is the repetition of the tasks performed. Prevention of these injuries should focus on eliminating repetitive work through job design which may involve mechanizing certain tasks. In addition, jobs should be structured so that workers can rotate between various tasks where they do something completely different, using different muscles groups.

Because RSIs develop slowly over time, it is important for workers to be aware of the causes, how to best prevent them and how to recognize the early symptoms.

Pain is the most common symptom associated with WMSDs. In some cases, there may be joint stiffness, muscle tightness, redness and swelling of the affected area. Some workers may also experience sensations of “pins and needles,” numbness, skin colour changes, and decreased sweating of the hands.

Symptoms of RSI

WMSDs may progress in stages from mild to severe.

  • Early stage: Aching and tiredness of the affected limb occur during the work shift but disappear at night and during days off work. No reduction in work performance.
  • Intermediate stage: Aching and tiredness occur early in the work shift and persist at night. Reduced capacity for repetitive work.
  • Late stage: Aching, fatigue, and weakness persist at rest. Inability to sleep and to perform light duties.

Not everyone goes through these stages in the same way. In fact, it may be difficult to say exactly when one stage ends and the next begins. The first pain is a signal that the muscles and tendons should rest and recover. Otherwise, an injury can become longstanding, and sometimes, irreversible. The earlier people recognize symptoms, the quicker they should respond to them.

The table below outlines occupational risk factors and symptoms of the most common disorders of the upper body associated with WMSDs.

Disorders Occupational Risk Factors Symptoms


Repetitive wrist motions Repetitive shoulder motions Sustained hyper extension of arms Prolonged load on shoulders

Pain, weakness, swelling, burning sensation or dull ache over affected area

Epicondylitis (elbow tendonitis)

Repeated or forceful rotation of the forearm and bending of the wrist at the same time

Same symptoms as tendonitis

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Repetitive wrist motions

Pain, numbness, tingling, burning sensations, wasting of muscles at base of thumb, dry palm

DeQuervain’s disease

Repetitive hand twisting and forceful gripping

Pain at the base of thumb

Thoracic outlet syndrome

Prolonged shoulder flexion Extending arms above shoulder height Carrying loads on the shoulder

Pain, numbness, swelling of the hands

Tension neck syndrome

Prolonged restricted posture