RSIs and Stress


Reprinted from The RSI Network - Issue 17 - Apr'94

Debbie Stiles, R.N, M.N.
April 1994

The association between RSIs and psychosocial stress continues to be investigated, but few studies have specifically looked at RSIs. Many studies, however, have found significant correlations between physical health problems and job stress. For example, a study by Westgaard and Bjorklund (1987) demonstrated higher muscle tension (EMG) levels in VDT operators who were engaged in tasks requiring high mental workload or increased mental effort. Psychosocial and postural variables may produce RSI symptoms through a pathway of muscle tension and fatigue.

My thesis asked: Do people with CTS have more psychosocial stress compared to a control group without CTS? Although the CTS group tended to report higher job stress and less job satisfaction, and had higher scores on the Symptoms of Stress Inventory (SOS), the results did not reach significance except for the separate SOS subscales of anxiety, habit patterns, and cognitive disorganization. I wouldn't make any broad generalizations from this study, however, due to the small sample of 24 subjects.

The question remains: which came first, the CTS/RSI or the stress? Psychological factors play a role, at least in the aggravation of symptoms. But I'm not convinced RSIs are different from any other illness; that is, the mind-body connection probably exists in every physical disorder. A person's response to psychosocial stressors can become a vicious cycle. Clearly, more research is needed.

RSI is a complex disorder and unfortunately not easily solved by one method. Biopsychosocial and ergonomic variables all need to be considered in both the prevention and the rehabilitation of RSIs.

About the Author
Debbie Stiles, R.N, M.N., of Healthy Dimensions (Occupational Stress and Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation, and Biofeedback-Assisted Ergonomics). Debbie also works at the University of Washington Management of Stress Response Clinic.

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