Stay Active to Protect Against Work-Related Injuries

Healthnotes Newswire (May 24, 2007)—People who are more physically active during leisure time have a lower chance of suffering from a repetitive strain injury on the job.

Repetitive strain injuries are a type of soft tissue injury—those that affect muscles, tendons, ligaments, or nerves—resulting from repeated, awkward, or forceful bodily movements. Most of these injuries occur in the upper body; carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, bursitis, and thoracic outlet syndrome are some examples. As more jobs are now performed sitting at a desk in front of the computer, the prevalence of repetitive strain injuries is increasing.

“It is widely accepted that physical activity during leisure time has numerous health benefits and is associated with decreased risks of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, and many other diseases, but it is not known if leisure time physical activity decreases the risk of work-related repetitive strain injury,” said the authors of the new study in Arthritis and Rheumatism.

Using information from 58,622 people who took part in the Canadian Health Survey, the study investigated the relationship between leisure time physical activity and work-related repetitive stress injuries. The people were asked if they had any injuries due to repetitive strain that were serious enough to limit normal activities during the past year. They also gave information about the type, frequency, and duration of leisure time physical activities that they engaged in.

Almost 11% of the people reported suffering from a repetitive strain injury in the past 12 months; about one-half of these were work-related. Women, obese people, smokers, people ages 30 to 49, and those with high work-related stress were more susceptible to repetitive strain injuries.

Physical activity seemed to protect against repetitive strain injuries. People who were active during their leisure time were 16% less likely to have a repetitive strain injury at work than were people who were more sedentary. Activities that place a lot of load on the upper body, such as tennis, baseball, gardening, fishing, golf, and bowling did not increase the risk of work-related repetitive strain injury. Another possible explanation for this finding is that people who suffered from a repetitive strain injury might be less likely to be active outside of work.

The researchers concluded, “This finding provides strong evidence for a hypothesis that an active lifestyle outside of work may protect against work-related repetitive strain injury, adding another potential health benefit to leisure time physical activity participation.”

(Arthritis Rheum 2007;57:495–500)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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