People who are stressed at work or feel undermined by colleagues and management are more likely to get repetitive strain injury than colleagues doing identical jobs, a new study has found.

People who are stressed at work or feel undermined by colleagues and management are more likely to get repetitive strain injury than colleagues doing identical jobs, a new study has found.

Research published today in the British Medical Journal shows that RSI, otherwise known as non-specific arm pain, is unlikely to be caused only by highly repetitive movements. Although there has been much controversy over whether RSI exists, the condition is now widely recognised by doctors as being due to a physical cause. However, researchers have found that psychological factors as well as physical strain play a major role.

RSI is believed to affect about 200,000 workers in Britain and causes crippling pain and loss of strength, particularly in the wrists and hands.

Professor Gary Macfarlane and colleagues from the University of Manchester questioned more than 1,200 individuals, aged 18 to 65, over a two-year period, asking them to indicate where they experienced pain in one month lasting at least one day. Details of work history were obtained as well as information about those who reported forearm pain.

A total of 105, or 8.3 per cent, said they had had pain in their forearm. The researchers found increased risk of pain was associated with high levels of psychological distress, particularly that caused by dissatisfaction with support from colleagues or supervisors. The main physical factors were repetitive movements of the arm and wrist.

The researchers said the findings showed RSI was not caused by physical repetitive movements alone and that the term "repetitive stain injury" was misleading as it implied only a physical cause.

"Our study ... confirms a long-suspected relation between work-related repetitive movements and onset of forearm pain, but also that the onset of symptoms can be predicted by high levels of psychological distress and adverse work-related psychosocial experiences," the professor said.

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