Repetitive strain injury (RSI) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are currently the two most common occupational problems among workers. RSI, also referred to as repetitive motion injury or musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), is a general term for damage to any part of the musculoskeletal or nervous system resulting from repetitive motions and overuse. CTS occurs when the median nerve is pressed or squeezed at the wrist.
Technological advancement has made work easier and more enjoyable, causing people to work continuously without breaks. This has seen RSI statistics rise exponentially in the current workforce, compared to previous generations:
- RSI is the most prevalent occupational injury, impacting 1.8 million workers.
- Between 300,000 and 500,000 carpal tunnel surgeries are performed every year.
- Cubital tunnel syndrome mainly affects older men, who account for 41% of patients undergoing surgery for the condition.
- Men are five times more likely to get tendonitis than women are.
- 19% of smartphone users are affected by DQT.
- 50% of office workers ignore occupational health advice that could protect them from these conditions.
This article gives you a broad outline of RSI and its various forms, including CTS. It will help you understand the risks your occupation exposes you to and your likelihood of developing such conditions.
Table of Contents
RSI affects 1.8 million workers per year.
RSI is the most common occupational injury, based on numbers of workers seeking medical intervention. This figure doesn’t account for people who deal with it independently.
Nearly 70 million people in the U.S. make physician visits every year because of musculoskeletal disorders.
The total number of healthcare encounters is estimated at 130 million, including hospital, outpatient, and emergency facility visits.
60% of office workers suffer from wrist pain.
Computer users are often transfixed by their work, typing a lot on their keyboards without breaks.
50% of people who work with computers suffer from RSI symptoms.
Working in front of the computer for more than eight hours a day is associated with wrist, hands, shoulders, and neck pains. Technology has made typing faster and easier, but denied us the occasional respites present in previous devices. It’s easy to sit behind a computer for long periods, unaware of the gradual damage accumulating.
Around half of office workers know their work patterns aren’t good for their health.
51% reported that their keyboards were placed too high, while 50% admitted to disregarding recommendations to take breaks from their computers.
Musculoskeletal disorders consistently affect more women than men in the workforce.
A compilation of data from across Europe illustrated that in every country, women reported more musculoskeletal pain than men. For example, in Spain, 51% of women have neck and upper limb pain, compared to 41% of men; and 37% of women experience lower limb pain, compared to 31% of men. In France, 35% of women have persistent back pain, compared to 24% of men.
Younger workers between 25 and 54 years old account for 79% of musculoskeletal disorders.
While this age group is the most affected, vulnerability varies across occupations. Fabricators, operators, laborers, technical salespeople, and administrative support jobs account for 58% of MSD cases.
The annual cost of RSI is between $17 and $20 billion.
The costs associated with diagnosed cases of RSI are based on workers’ compensation claims and missed work days.
The annual economic burden caused by MSDs lies between $45 and $54 billion.
The burden of work-related MSDs is measured by compensation costs, lost productivity, and wages.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) Statistics
Carpal tunnel syndrome is triggered by compression of the median nerve at the wrist. It is the most common entrapment neuropathy, and may cause numbness, weakness, and pain in the hand, wrist, and fingers.
CTS affects 4-10 million Americans, but is treatable.
CTS is the most common nerve disorder, accounting for 90% of neuropathic conditions.
1.9 million Americans are diagnosed with CTS each year.
Between 300,000 and 500,000 surgeries are performed each year to correct the condition.
Four in five Carpal Tunnel Syndrome patients are women.
In a study of more than 300 CTS patients at a Thai hospital, 83% were women, and 94% reported symptoms of numbness, pain, and weakness.
34% of pregnant women develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome symptoms.
Due to hormonal changes and fluid retention, one in three women can develop CTS during pregnancy. The symptoms usually alleviate on their own after she gives birth.
CTS is most common in workers between 40-60 years of age.
The peak age for occurrence starts at 40 years old and develops further with age.
People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop Carpal Tunnel
This is due to high blood sugar levels, which makes the body more prone to compression affecting the nerves. An analysis of data from 25 studies and over 92,000 patients showed that Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes both increased the risk of CTS.
CTS causes an average of 28 days absence from work each year
This is in contrast to 6 days off work for other non-fatal illnesses or injuries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Statistics
Cubital tunnel syndrome (CuTS) occurs due to the compression of the ulnar nerve at the inside of the elbow through stretching, direct pressure, or intense strain. It is an upper extremity entrapment neuropathy, second in prevalence after carpal tunnel syndrome. It results in tingling, numbness, or pain.
CuTS occurs at a rate of 30 per 100,000 people per year.
This is according to a national administrative health care claims database, containing data on more than 53,000 patients from all 50 states over a 6-year period.
CuTS has more impact on older males, who comprise 41% of patients who receive surgical treatment.
Overall, CuTS is more prevalent in men than women, occurring at a rate of 31.2 vs. 28.8 cases per 100,000 person-years. However, below 50 years of age, women were slightly more affected than men.
41% of CuTS cases need to be treated surgically.
Cases that arise in younger age groups have a lower rate of surgical intervention. For the 18-30 year age group, 34% require surgery, abut this increases to 49% in the 60-65 year age group.
The average age of pediatric cases is 16 years.
Pediatric CuTS is rare, but can happen in children and adolescents who participate in throwing sports such as javelin and shot put.
Tendons are made of connective tissue that attaches muscles to bones. Tendonitis, also called tendinitis, occurs when a tendon is irritated or inflamed. This may happen when a more significant load than the tendon can take is consistently applied.
Anyone can get tendonitis, but it’s most typical in adults. People aged 40 years and above, whose tendons have lost elasticity, and extremely active adults who overwork their tendons are at a higher risk of developing the acute form.
Tendonitis occurs at a rate of 33.2 cases per 100,000 people each year.
This is according to a USA study conducted between 2001 and 2010, which included people from different races, age groups, genders, and occupations.
Men are five times more likely to get tendonitis than women are.
Tendonitis is significantly associated with gender, occurring at a rate of 56 per 100,000 person-years in males compared to 11 per 100,000 person-years in females.
Job-related tendonitis accounts for one in four acute tendonitis cases overall.
Although tendonitis can affect anyone, it’s common in workers who work long hours in jobs that stress their tendons. Occupational tendonitis accounts for 25% of all tendonitis cases.
44% of job-related hand and wrist tendonitis cases occurred in construction and extraction workers.
Food preparation and serving-related careers are also at risk, counting for 14.4% of occupational tendonitis, while transportation and material moving jobs account for 12.5%.
On average, it takes 10 months to recover from an episode of shoulder tendonitis.
The recovery period is longer in older patients.
De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis Statistics
De Quervian’s Tenosynovitis (DQT) is a painful inflammation of tendons on the wrist where the base of the thumb is located. It occurs due to repetitive trauma resulting from chronic overuse.
People who perform repetitive tasks with their hands and wrists and those who use their thumbs in recurrent grasping and pinching motions are most susceptible. It occurs on the predominant hand, and risky activities include tailoring, typing, and racket sports.
Women are 4.5 times more likely to be affected by DQT than men.
DQT has a higher occurrence in women than men, at a rate of 280 cases per 100,000 person-years in women, compared to 60 cases per 100,000 person-years in men.
19% of smartphone users are affected by DQT.
A 2020 study found that about one of five smartphone users suffer from DQT, with the most common symptoms being thumb and wrist pain.
People aged 40 and above are three times more likely to get DQT than people under 20.
The condition manifests at 200 per 100,000 person-years in people aged 40 years and above, and at 60 per 100,000 in people under 20 years of age.
DQT affects Black people 1.6 times more than white people.
Black people are more susceptible than whites, being affected at a rate of 130 per 100,000 to 80 per 100,000 in whites.
Intersection Syndrome Statistics
Dual or distal intersection syndrome is a rare disorder occurring at the cross point between the first compartment and the dorsal wrist extensors. It occurs due to repetitive friction at the junction where the first compartment’s tendons cross over the second.
Intersection syndrome has a prevalence rate of between 0.20% and 0.37%.
The most common symptom is pain in the patient’s radial wrist or forearm.
As many as 1.7% of elite athletes can suffer from intersection syndrome each year.
Intersection syndrome is common in people involved in sports activities or occupations requiring active wrist flexion and extensions. As well as affecting 5% of an elite rowing squad over a three-year period, it is common in sports such as skiing, horseback riding, canoeing, and racquet sports.
60% of individuals who suffer from Intersection Syndrome can recover in three weeks.
Aside from physical therapy, most Intersection Syndrome cases only require periods of rest, analgesic and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, and immobilization with a splint.
Rotator Cuff Syndrome (RCS) Statistics
Rotator cuff syndrome is an injury or degenerative condition affecting the rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons in the shoulders. It’s the most common issue in patients suffering shoulder problems.
22.1% of Americans have rotator cuff tears.
However, two-thirds of these are asymptomatic, and are only detectable through screening with ultrasound.
The risk of RCS increases threefold between the ages of 50 and 80.
The condition mainly affects people over 50, and the risk increases with age. People in their 50s experience RCS at a rate of 11%, which increases to 37% for people in their 80s.
40% of RCS patients over 60 have large tears in the rotator cuff.
In contrast, people in their 50s usually experience small tears.
38% of forest workers suffer from rotator cuff tear.
Occupationally, rotator cuff tear is more common in forest workers due to heavy labor. It was the least common among unemployed people and showed no significant differences in occurrence in other jobs.
17% of tears that are surgically repaired will tear again within 6 months.
The risk depends on whether the initial tear was a full-thickness tear or a partial tear. One-in-four full-thickness tears will tear again in the months following surgery, whereas for partial tears the risk is one in twenty.
Radial Tunnel Syndrome Statistics
Radial tunnel syndrome results from the exertion of pressure on the posterior interosseous nerve (PIN) at the proximal forearm, where it goes through the radial tunnel.
RTS is a rare condition with an annual prevalence of 2.2 per 100,000 in the general population.
This is around ten times less common than CuTS.
Men are twice as likely to get RTS than women are.
In men, radial neuropathies occur at a rate of 3 per 100,000 people per year, but in women the figure is 1.4 per 100,000 per year. However, among women, RTS is more prevalent in the 30 to 50 years age group.
Non-surgical treatment is 60% to 70% successful, and recovery takes 9 to 18 months.
Initial RTS treatment is non-surgical and involves anti-inflammatory injections. Surgery is reserved for severe cases. 72% of injected patients completely recover from pain at 6 weeks, and 60% of treated cases are pain-free after 2 years.
Surgery can relieve pain in 67% to 93% of patients.
Surgery aims to decompress the area around the nerve, and can offer a permanent solution to the pain and symptoms. It is recommended for patients who don’t find relief from non-surgical treatment.
Writer’s Cramp Statistics
Writer’s cramp (WC) is a type of task-specific dystonia affecting the fingers, hand, or forearm. It is characterized by extreme muscle contractions resulting in abnormal posture and interference with motor performance during highly skilled repetitive movements such as writing.
Writer’s cramp is a rare condition, occurring at a rate of 0.27 per 100,000 per annum
WC is considered a form of focal limb dystonia, which is generally a rare condition.
Writer’s cramp appears between ages 30 and 50 years, with a mean age of 38 years.
WC is a condition found only in adults, with onset in middle age. Initial signs of WC are a tight grip on the pen and decreased legibility of a person’s handwriting.
10-20% of WC patients have a family history of the condition.
Although WC is clearly related to specific tasks, susceptibility appears to be hereditary.
Four out of five patients with writer’s cramp are male.
Men are most likely to be affected with WC, and more experience it with a dystonic action tremor.
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) FAQs
Is RSI permanent?
RSI is a temporary condition. During treatment, one may have to refrain from the tasks that caused it. It takes a short time to achieve complete recovery from RSI.
After recovery, it doesn’t have long-term impacts on a person’s health or ability to perform their favorite activities.
What percentage of people get RSI?
RSI is estimated to affect about 22% of the general population annually. It is a global occupational health problem.
Some nations report slightly different RSI statistics; for instance, CCOHS states that about 15% of Canadians were affected by RSI in 2017. In the UK, about 2% of workers suffer from an RSI condition.
Can RSI cause carpal tunnel syndrome?
RSI is a possible cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, since repeated hand and wrist motions can irritate or inflame the wrist tendons.
While CTS is specifically caused by pressure on the median nerve on your wrist, RSI can affect muscles, nerves, and tendons. RSI can also affect other body parts, such as the elbow and shoulder.
According to various RSI statistics, RSI and CTS are major concerns for the working population worldwide. They lead to missed work days and numerous compensation claims, which cost billions of dollars to governments and businesses.
RSI manifests in various forms depending on the affected part of the body. It is mostly an occupational condition that may have a mild or severe impact on workers.
The good news is that RSI and CTS are treatable, manageable, and preventable. Knowing the type of RSI your occupation can expose you to will help you take the necessary precautions to stay safe at work.
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