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Safety Tips: Are RSIs slowing your workforce?

What you need to know about tendon disorders.


Design work practices to reduce RSI risk factors. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK/BRAXION

Design work practices to reduce RSI risk factors. PHOTO: THINKSTOCK/BRAXION

Just as a well-oiled machine functions better than a rusty one, our bodies need smooth, healthy tendons to move freely and without friction. But some conditions in the workplace put workers at risk of developing repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) involving tendon disorders.

Tendinitis (also tendonitis) describes a condition in which the tendons become swollen. Tasks that are repetitive or performed for a long period of time; or that involve awkward or stationary postures, vibration and localized mechanical stress, fray tendon fibres. Injured tendons become thickened, bumpy and irregular. If they’re not given time to heal, they end up permanently weakened.

This disorder is common in the shoulder, especially among those doing jobs that involve overhead work, arm elevation and specific postures that include bending and elevating the arm.

Jobs that require repeated or forceful movements of the fingers, wrist and forearm cause tendinitis of the elbow (tennis elbow). It’s associated with simultaneous rotation of the forearm and bending of the wrist, stressful gripping of objects with inward or outward movement of the forearm, or jerky, throwing motions. Tendinitis of the hand and wrist is linked to tasks such as assembly line work, meat processing, manufacturing and typing.

Tenosynovitis, occurring in the palm side and back of the wrist and hand, is an inflammation of the sheath that produces a lubricating fluid for the tendon. Prolonged activities, forceful exertion, awkward and static posture, vibration and localized mechanical stress causes the sheath to produce less fluid or fluid with poor lubricating qualities. This creates friction that results in inflammation, swelling and other problems.

Tendon disorders rarely require surgery. The usual treatment is to avoid activities that cause or aggravate the disorders, or by applying pain relief such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ice or heat, friction massage, stretching and strengthening exercises, transcutaneous (through the skin) electrical nerve stimulation or ultrasound.

Prevention involves identifying and reducing the risk factors by designing work practices and equipment that minimizes repetitive movements, the need to use significant force, awkward postures and the amount of time a worker spends in one position. Workers should be encouraged to take rest breaks.

Ongoing, consistent training and education are also key for workers, managers and health and safety representatives.

Visit www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/tendon_disorders.html for more information.

This article was provided by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), a not-for-profit federal corporation that promotes the physical, psychosocial and mental health of Canadian workers by providing information, training, education and management systems. Visit www.ccohs.ca.

Comments? E-mail jterrett@plant.ca.

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