Exercise Lowers Repetitive Strain Risk
Study Shows Work-Related Injuries Reduced by 16%
WebMD News Archive
March 29, 2007 -- Getting more exercise during your free time may lower your
risk of developing a repetitive strain injury at work.
Engaging in moderate levels of physical activity during leisure hours
appeared to protect against work-related carpal tunnel syndrome and other arm-
and shoulder-repetitive injuries in a newly reported study from Canada.
The impact was modest, with people who exercised three or four times a week
showing a 16% reduction in risk. But the study is among the first to suggest
that physical activity helps protect against these injuries, researcher Charles
Ratzlaff, PhD, tells WebMD.
"If someone is sitting 40 or 50 hours at a desk, it makes sense that
getting out for three or four half-hour walks during the week will be
helpful," he says.
Work and Repetitive Strain Injuries
Ratzlaff, who is a physical therapist and epidemiologist, says he became
interested in studying physical activity levels in people with repetitive
strain injuries (RSIs) after noticing that many of his RSI patients had
sedentary jobs and were not very active in their off time. Repetitive strain
injuries are also known as repetitive stress injuries.
Because repetitive sports like tennis, baseball, and golf can cause RSIs,
Ratzlaff and colleagues with the University of British Columbia at Vancouver
also set out to determine if people who engaged in these activities were at
higher risk for work-related injuries.
The researchers analyzed data derived from a 2003 Canadian health registry.
The study included 58,622 full-time workers who ranged in age from 15 to
All of the workers had reported upper body repetitive strain injuries
serious enough to limit normal activities within the previous 12 months. And
all had provided information on the leisure-time activities they participated
Consistent with other studies, the researcher found that roughly half of
upper body RSIs reported by the study population were work related. The most
common areas of injury included wrist/hand (39%), shoulder (29%), and elbow
Being female, being a smoker, and being obese were each also linked to
increased risk for an upper body RSI.
The researchers found no evidence that engaging in repetitive sports like
tennis, baseball, golf, or weight training increased the risk for developing a
work-related upper body RSI.
But they were not able to assess the impact of engaging in these activities
more often than once a week on average.
'Recipe for RSI'
Ratzlaff says exercise may benefit people at risk for work-related RSIs by
restoring balance to the musculoskeletal system.
"Sitting in front of a computer all day and other at-risk jobs can lead
to muscle weakness and tightness, and that is a recipe for causing a repetitive
strain injury," he says.
Ejaz Shamim, MD, who also sees many patients with repetitive strain
injuries, says it is no surprise that less active people may be more at
Shamim is a clinical fellow with the National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke.
"When you are sedentary, you are much less agile and more prone to
injury," he tells WebMD. "I learned that the hard way a few months ago
when I twisted my ankle at work largely because my wife was pregnant and I
wasn't exercising like I normally do. It never would have happened