Repetitive strain injuries on the rise

Work-related activities the number one cause of repetitive strain injuries: Statistics Canada
||Last Updated: 08/27/2003


he number of Canadians suffering from repetitive strain injury is rising, according to the latest figures from Statistics Canada.

One out of every 10 Canadian adults had a repetitive strain injury serious enough to limit their normal activities in 2000-2001. An estimated 2.3 million people aged 20 or older reporting having had such an injury in the 12 months prior to their participation in the

Canadian Community Health Survey

, for which data collection began in September 2000.

This is a significant jump in the prevalence of repetitive strain injuries when compared during the 1990s. In 1996-1997, eight per cent of adults reported the problem according to the

National Population Health Survey


Type of work makes a difference

Work-related activities were the number one cause of repetitive strain injuries, but the study found that working did not in itself increase the likelihood of reporting such an injury. But, among those that did work, the type of job mattered.

Least likely to be injured were people in management. Men and women who worked in sales or service; trades, transport or equipment operating; farming, forestry, fishing or mining; and processing, manufacturing or utilities had high odds of reporting a repetitive strain injury compared with those in management. This was particularly true for women in traditionally male-dominated occupations, Statistics Canada said.

Stress increases risk

Work stress deriving from a fast work pace, role ambiguity, worry and monotonous tasks has been associated with repetitive strain injuries in the past. The Statistics Canada report supports the association between work stress and repetitive strain injuries, but also finds that once other contributing factors are taken into consideration the association differs for men and women.

People who reported at least some work stress were generally more likely to report a repetitive strain injury in 2000-2001 than were those who reported no work stress. This relationship was especially pronounced for women: 18 per cent who indicated that their work was “extremely stressful” reported such an injury compared with 10 per cent who considered their work “not at all” or “not very” stressful.

Even allowing for other explanatory factors, the odds of reporting a repetitive strain injury were higher among women who found most days at work were “quite” or “extremely” stressful, compared with women who felt lower degrees of work stress. The association between workplace stress and RSI did not hold for men, though, once the same factors were taken into consideration.

There was a significant association for both sexes between day-to-day life stress and reporting a repetitive strain injury, even after potentially confounding factors were considered. Compared with people who described their lives as “not at all” or “not very” stressful, those experiencing greater degrees of daily stress had higher odds of reporting a repetitive strain injury.

Chronic pain and distress associated with RSI

In 1998-99, 23 per cent of men and 31 per cent of women with a repetitive strain injury reported chronic pain or discomfort, compared with 13 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women who did not report such an injury.

This association persisted even when factors such as age and arthritis were taken into account. As well, men and women with a repetitive strain injury reported significantly higher levels of psychological distress than did those without such injuries.

The effects of repetitive strain injuries can be long-lasting. Women who reported such an injury in 1998-1999 reported increased pain and distress by 2000-2001 and among men who reported a repetitive strain injury in 1998-1999 the elevated levels of pain and distress had not declined in 2000-2001.

The information is taken from a Statistics Canada article, “Repetitive strain injuries,” published in the August 2003 issue of

Health Reports


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