Repetitive strain injury rates exaggerated in EU

The prevalence of workplace repetitive strain injuries (RSI) in Europe is likely to have been exaggerated, new research has suggested.

The study by professor Keith Palmer, of the University of Southampton’s Epidemiology Research Centre, was published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

It surveyed 5,000 randomly chosen patients from five general practice registers in the UK. Participants were asked about the physical nature of their job, their mental and general state of health, whether they had RSI, and what they thought had caused it.

The authors used the responses to calculate the fraction of arm pain likely to be caused or aggravated by arm-straining activities. This figure, known as the population attributable fraction (PAF), was 14%.

Among the 1,800 people who fully responded to all the questions, almost half said they had had arm pain in the previous 12 months.

Of these, 54% felt that their job had either caused or worsened their symptoms – a figure more than three times what the researchers calculated the PAF should have been.

This discrepancy was almost twice as great among those under the age of 50 than it was among those over 50. And it was also greater among those with poorer mental and general health.

The authors concluded that counting people who think their RSI is related to their work can substantially inflate the number of cases that are actually caused or worsened by it.

Reference: How common is repetitive strain injury? Online First Occup Environ Med 2007 doi: 10.1136.oem/2007.035378

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