How to Avoid Repetitive Stress Injuries

A repetitive stress injury results from a prolonged activity or sitting in the same position for an extended period. A body part slowly accumulates stress from overuse until it eventually folds under pressure, causing chronic pain or injury.

While most work-related injuries are freak accidents that occur instantly and without warning, repetitive stress injuries often show telltale signs before they become serious. Here are the most common symptoms:

  • Frequent pain
  • Swelling/bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Numbness
  • Stiffness

By paying close attention to those signs in our most-used body parts, we can take measures to alleviate pressure and stay healthy. Practice the following five habits to keep your mind and body sharp and avoid pesky stress injuries.

1. Stretching

Your body can become stiff and sore, no matter your work environment. Take a few minutes at the beginning, middle and end of each day to stretch out the areas that feel stressed.

Pick a handful of stretches that focus on your most-used body parts and create a daily stretching routine. You are more vulnerable to injury when tense and tight, so you must keep things loose.

You should also stretch several times throughout the day. If you realize you’ve been sitting in the same position for a while, stand up and move. Remaining in one place for too long is a major contributing factor to repetitive stress injuries, so you must stay mobile.

2. Posture

While stretching is seen chiefly as a helpful habit to keep your body loose and mobile, it’s also useful when you are sitting still. If you spend most of your day sitting and typing, you should learn to do it right. Start by doing posture exercises to get your body accustomed to sitting the right way, which looks something like this:

  • Neck straight, eyes level with your screen
  • Fingers only touching the keyboard, with your palms and wrists hovering
  • Back straight, not hunched over in your seat
  • Legs firmly beneath you, not curled up or spread out

You might feel more comfortable lounging back in your work chair for a few hours, but sitting in that awkward position for weeks and months could lead to long-term health problems. Address your posture issues now, and avoid injury later.

3. Equipment

Sometimes equipment prevents you from using good posture. Perhaps the chair or desk doesn’t fit your height, or your keyboard digs into your wrists. If that’s the case, don’t hesitate to ask your employer to get new furniture. Your employer’s responsibility is to create a safe environment.

If that does not suffice, consider making your own personal adjustments. Instead of elevating your desk or chair, raise your screen by stacking it on a couple of books. You can do the same with your keyboard if you find typing uncomfortable.

Consider using multiple chairs, if possible. Many offices have more comfortable seats available so employees are not confined to their desks and can move to a different workstation if they wish. This alternative works especially well for remote workers, who can move about their homes at their discretion.

Still, you have to be honest with yourself. Do not conflate equipment deficiencies with poor job performance. Suppose your job requires you to operate complex machinery or lift heavy objects, and you find yourself struggling to keep up. In that case, you should reevaluate your capacity for the job.

4. Diet and Exercise

The previous three tips all had immediate benefits. You can easily create a great stretching routine, use good posture on command and make quick fixes to your work equipment. It will take some time for you to reap the rewards of diet and exercise, but it’s the greatest long-term investment you can make in your body.

Working out increases your body’s ability to withstand and recover from uncontrolled stress. A proper diet gives you the fuel to be more productive in every facet of your life, including work.

However, there’s a fine line between vigorous exercise and overtraining. Rest is an equally important part of keeping your body healthy.

5. Take Breaks

As you spend more time working at a job, your mind and body develop internal clocks. You will feel energized at some points in the day, while you will feel tired and groggy at other times. Monitor the ebbs and flows of your energy levels and establish break times accordingly.

A five to 10-minute break from performing your job’s repetitive task will give your body some much-needed change in tempo. It will also allow you to work on the stretching routine you’ve been developing.

The longer your body remains in a fixed position, the harder it will be to recover from the stress caused by it. It’s important to get up from your desk and move around, even for short intervals, to alleviate that strain and keep from developing an injury or other chronic issues.

Health Is Your First Priority

Our jobs teach us valuable skills and help put food on the table, but you should not willingly compromise your long-term health for any profession. Continued stress can lead to serious injury, so you must practice proper daily habits.

You should also use the equipment available to you to create a workspace that will maximize comfortability. Anything that will alleviate pressure or improve your body’s resistance to stress will help prevent injuries and keep you healthy in the long run.