What Are Repetitive Stress Injuries? How Do Workers Get Them?

Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) can affect workers in almost any occupation. These injuries typically occur when a repetitive motion damages soft tissue in a specific part of the body. There are various types of RSI, but the most common is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This condition is most commonly found in office workers that spend significant time using a computer keyboard. It affects the ligaments and tendons within the tissue that makes up the carpal tunnel in the wrist. Neck strain, different types of back problems, and rotator cuff damage are common among carpenters, mechanics, and construction workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that RSIs account for approximately 60% of work-related injuries, and are diagnosed in one out of every eight workers in the United States. As a Massachusetts workers compensation lawyer, I’m consistently seeing varying degrees of RSI’s.

Common Types of RSIs

RSIs are directly related to a specific kind of repetitive motion. There are many different occupations with a high incidence of RSIs. The most commonly reported injuries include the following:


  • Tendonitis – Tendons are tissues that connect muscles to bone. Because they are largely responsible for movement, tendons consist of extremely strong, flexible, fibrous, cable-like connective tissues. When tendons are overused, they may become inflamed, causing pain, stiffness, and tenderness in areas around the joint. This can occur at any joint in the body. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, ultrasound and massage therapies, stretching and strengthening exercises, and orthotics or splinting. However, the most important element in treatment is rest, which can be difficult when lost wages are involved.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – The carpal tunnel is a passageway on the palmar side of the wrist that consists of bone and connective tissue. It creates a canal for the median nerve, which runs down the forearm and into the hands and fingers (carpals). The tendons running from the forearm to the fingers also pass through this tunnel. As with tendonitis, when the carpal tunnel becomes inflamed from overuse, it presses against the median nerve, causing pain, weakness, and numbness that may radiate up the forearm. Management includes splinting and anti-inflammatory medications. Surgery is becoming an increasingly recommended treatment.
  • Bursitis – A fluid filled sac found in joints, a bursa is responsible for cushioning spaces between bone and other tissues, including muscle, tendon, cartilage, and skin. With approximately 160 bursae scattered throughout the body, repetitive motion can cause inflammation. Pain and tenderness are common symptoms. The fluid within the bursa may swell, causing decreased mobility in the affected joint. As with tendonitis, treatment includes anti-inflammatory drugs, ultrasound and massage therapies, stretching and strengthening, elevation, and rest. If these fail, the next level of treatment is corticosteroid injections.

Additional Well-Known RSIs

Other common RSIs include:


  • Myofascial damage (swelling of tired, overused muscles)
  • Epicondylitis (‘tennis elbow’)
  • Tenosynovitis (irritation of the sheath that encapsulates tendons)
  • Cervical radiculopathy (compression of discs in the neck)
  • Trigger finger

Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

Because repetitive stress injuries are so common, there is a tendency to understate their effect on both daily living and work performance. Over time, these injuries can become increasingly debilitating. Many people think the symptoms are simply signs of aging, not realizing that their RSI may be covered by workers’ compensation benefits. If you believe you are suffering from an RSI and have questions about your options, the Boston workers compensation lawyers  at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We will examine the details of your unique situation to determine the best way to move forward. Serving Massachusetts for almost 50 years, our firm has an impressive record of helping clients obtain compensation. Contact Altman and Altman for a free consultation about your case.

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