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 74.
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 in.
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 (26%).
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 risk.
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 otherwise."