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Friday, 15 September, 2000, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
RSI 'linked to psychology'
Forearm pain is complex
One of the common symptoms of repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a complex condition that may be partly caused by psychological factors, say researchers.

A team from the University of Manchester studied people who complained of pains in their forearm.

They found that the concept that the pain was caused purely by repetitive movements in the arms or wrists, such as typing, to be false.

The way the individual perceives their work may also be important

Professor Gary Macfarlane, University of Manchester

Instead, they found that the pain was linked to several other factors - including high levels of psychological distress and dissatisfaction with support from colleagues at work.

Over a period of two years, the researchers collected questionnaires from more than 1,200 people aged 18-65 years.

The questionnaire contained a picture of a blank manikin and respondents were asked to shade the site of any pain experienced during the previous month and lasting at least one day.

A detailed occupational history was obtained for all participants and further information was collected for those who specifically reported forearm pain.

A total of 105 participants (8.3%) reported forearm pain.

Among these, 67% also reported shoulder pain, 65% back pain and 45% chronic widespread pain.

The researchers say that this proves the theory that people rarely suffer forearm pain in isolation.

Lack of support

They found that in the workplace the people most at risk were those whose work involved repetitive movements - but who were also dissatisfied with support from supervisors and colleagues.

The authors also found that other important factors included high levels of psychological distress, presence of other physical symptoms and general anxiety about health.

They argue that terms such as repetitive strain injury are far too simplistic to describe symptoms which can be very complex and unlikely to be the result of a single cause.

Lead researcher Professor Gary Macfarlane, of the Unit of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, University of Manchester, told BBC News Online: "We don't really understand what causes forearm pain.

"Repetitive movements play a role, but there appear to many other important factors, such as the demands of work and the level of support at work.

"The way the individual perceives their work may also be important - for instance people who feel they have little leeway over what they do are at risk."

Professor Macfarlane said companies who wanted to minimise the risk of RSI among their employees should take account of the working environment and organisation as well as the physical nature of the work.

Last year, researchers at University College, London, produced evidence that RSI was a purely physical problem which could be diagnosed with a simple test.

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See also:

12 Aug 00 | Health
Lefty workers 'at risk of injury'
14 Aug 00 | Health
Workers urged to monitor illness
23 Dec 99 | Health
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09 Aug 99 | Health
Formula One drivers get RSI
16 Jul 99 | Health
RSI linked to nerve damage
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