Are Exercises Safe?


Reprinted from The RSI Network - Issue 13 - Aug'93

Mark Pinsky
August 1993

A recent paper by Kwan Lee of Louisiana State University, Naomi Swanson of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and others raises questions about whether commonly recommended exercises are safe for VDT operators, including RSI sufferers and those at risk for RSIs. The investigators found that some exercises could be unsafe for workers at risk for RSIs, could replicate RSI-associated risk factors, or could be hazardous for people with pre-existing conditions. ("A review of physical exercises recommended for VDT operators," K. Lee, et al., "Applied Ergonomics," 1992, Vol. 23, No. 6, pp. 387-408.) These results are important, but they should not be used to rule out all exercises for people at risk for RSIs. Even people with some types of RSIs can benefit from exercises under proper medical supervision.

I debated whether to include exercises in my forthcoming book (The Carpal Tunnel Book: Preventing & Treating CTS, Tendinitis and Related Cumulative Trauma Disorders, Warner Books, $5.99, November 1993), before concluding that I could safely suggest certain exercises under the conditions listed below.

1. If you have or suspect you have an RSI, consult a doctor before doing any exercises involving the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, or neck. Some exercises can be done safely but should be closely supervised.

2. If you experience any RSI-related symptoms while exercising, stop immediately and see your doctor.

3. Do exercises gently and cautiously. You can stretch your muscles and warm up your joints by working with soft, small movements as well as you can with hard, large movements, and you do not have to strain yourself to exercise.

4. Do gentle exercises before starting work and regularly throughout the work day, if possible.

5. Exercises do not eliminate the need for proper equipment and working conditions, rest breaks, health work practices, and safe job organization. To minimize RSI risks, you should have both proper working conditions and a safe, regular exercise program.

After reading Lee and Swanson's paper, I called Swanson, who confirmed that exercises can be helpful if done properly. The paper suggests guidelines for exercise programs and includes warnings about specific types of exercises. I recommend that anyone involved in exercise programs read the paper (reprints are available from Swanson at NIOSH, Taft Laboratories, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226).

Return to Articles Index



Last Updated: 10/21/00