Repetitive strain injuries and how to prevent them

February 28, 2023

by Vanessa Christner, Program Manager, Ergonomics & Safety Management Systems, Environmental Health and Safety

Fact: The only non-repetitive day of the year, February 29, is actually Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day (although on leap years we celebrate on February 28). Ergonomists have quite the sense of humour!

At SFU, we refer to RSIs by a broader term, musculoskeletal injures, or MSI. An MSI is an injury caused by the overuse of structures within the musculoskeletal system such as bones, muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Injuries occur when the demands on these systems exceed the capability of the structure, typically through a single forceful movement or repeated use of the same joint.

Within any work environment, employees should be aware of the signs and symptoms of MSI. Early intervention or treatment of an MSI can result in improved treatment outcomes and reduced time away from work.

Know the signs and symptoms

Some early signs of MSI are redness, heat, swelling and reduced range of motion. Symptoms range from numbness, tingling, burning sensations, pain or localized discomfort, joint or muscle stiffness and/or weakness and if the affected area is tender to touch.
Certain conditions in a workplace can cause stress to the body and contribute to the development of an MSI. These conditions are called ergonomics risk factors. Force, posture and repetition are the most common ergonomic risk factors present in tasks and or arising from the design of workspaces.

How to prevent MSI

  • Increase or request the use of supporting equipment meant to reduce high forces (e.g., carts, lifting devices)
  • Ensure your workstation is set up correctly and increase movement throughout the day.
  • Rotate tasks and take frequent microbreaks to reduce repetition.
  • Report any MSI signs, symptoms or ergonomics risk factors to your supervisor for further investigation and implementation of risk controls.

SFU supervisors are welcome to connect with the Environmental Health & Safety department if they require support in investigation or implementation.

Did you know?

SFU is developing ergonomists of the future! The SFU Occupational Ergonomics Certificate is a specialization for Kinesiology majors in the Active Health and Rehabilitation concentration. Visit the BPK Ergonomics at SFU webpage for more information