Repetition is a part of life. It is how we learn to speak, write and read English and other languages. It also is how we learn our jobs and become injured on the job. February 29, the one day on the calendar that is not annually repetitive, is celebrated as International RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) Day. Throughout the world, health and safety activists stress the importance of training to avoid injuries like my own carpal tunnel syndrome.
Injuries such as mine have been around since the monks of ancient history got writer’s cramp copying those beautiful scrolls. Perhaps those cavemen and cave women of ancient times got similar injuries as a result of their drawings. Another repetitive action or work such as in the laboratory with piping, at the grocery store with scanning, or using the same machine over and over again can lead to a repetitive strain injury such as carpal tunnel, tendinitis, rotator cuff, thoracic outlet syndrome among others. Like many other so-called desk jockeys who use computers at work, I too was afflicted. Willie Nelson, the great country singer, had my same fate, but he got his carpal tunnel on the job by repetitively playing his guitar.
With the expansion of devices such as smart phones and gaming controls, many people are becoming injured. The recently traded pitcher David Price developed carpal tunnel by playing video games. Cultural icon Kim Kardashian was in danger of developing selfie thumb from overuse of her cell phone. Her action to prevent further injury — hiring a selfie assistant — is not open to most of us.
What we can do is opt out of the 21st century or, if we have an understanding boss who understands the importance of job rotation, not do the same thing over and over again. This is simply the classic doctor joke revisited. In fact, I had this happen to me when I told my doctor that it hurt me to change light bulbs. His advice as an orthopedic surgeon was simple: don’t do that.
We all need to become educated and read as much as we can about any work injuries we suffer. Two books written by Deborah Quilter on repetitive strain injury literally saved my life.
Unless we do something we may find ourselves paraphrasing Ernest Hemingway’s books, with A Farewell to Arms, Shoulders, Elbows, Hands, Necks, Wrists, Knees, Feet and Other Body Parts.
Happy RSI Day. When 2024 arrives, may your body parts be healthy ones.
Howard Egerman is a health and safety rep with the American Federation of Government Employees