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‘How effective are stretch breaks at preventing RSI’

A summary of the research on taking stretch breaks to prevent RSI and computer use injury.

This document provides background information and research on Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders, commonly referred to as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), and focuses on the scientific evidence supporting introduced breaks for computer users to prevent and manage musculoskeletal disorders.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) are names that are commonly associated with computer-related injuries. Investigation into the factors associated with symptoms of ULDs [Upper Limb Disorders] in keyboard users” [Hanson, Graveling, and Donnan 1996] published by the UK Institute of Occupational Medicine surveyed 3,500 keyboard users and found that… 55% of the subjects had at some time suffered from some discomfort in their upper limbs. 14% of all subjects were currently suffering, or had suffered within the last three months, from ULDs symptoms
which were severe enough for them to seek professional medical advice.

Injury rates for work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are relatively high. Statistics from the American Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) show that in recent years WMSD have approached 50% of all occupational injuries [United States Department of Labor 2001]. In Europe a report on Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2000) found MSD injuries ranged from 30% (Luxembourg), to 75% (Spain), of reported occupational disease statistics.

The importance of breaks has often been overlooked in the past by a more general focus on the physical ergonomics of the work area. Adjusting the physical ergonomics of the work area (such as chair, desk and monitor position) has been seen as the most important factor in preventing VDU related MSDs. However, increasingly research is now shifting to the issue of workload and breaks. This in part may be because the physical ergonomic issues have been largely addressed, leaving other less tangible issues like as workload regulation still to be resolved. Scientific evidence in recent publications suggests that the importance of sufficient breaks has been somewhat underestimated, particularly for high users.

A regulated workload with sufficient intervals for muscular and mental recovery may be just as important as a good ergonomics of the physical work area.


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