RSI from driving: what you need to know

Transport and logistics

1 April 2016

What do van drivers, office workers and Formula One champions have in common? The surprising answer: they all have high potential for repetitive strain injury (RSI).

While most drivers know about the obvious dangers associated with driving, few are aware that the driving habits of hitting the road each day can wreak havoc on your body in the long-term.

From symptoms and RSI treatments to in-car habits to avoid, here we’ll look at the ways you can best manage, minimise  and hopefully prevent  the condition from impacting your life on the road and beyond.

What is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?

The NHS defines repetitive strain injury as the general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse.

Also known as work-related upper limb disorder, or non-specific upper limb pain, the condition mainly affects areas of the upper body, including forearms and elbows, wrists and hands, and can lead to back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain.

Activities such as using computers at work or spending too much scrolling through your smartphone can exhaust the small muscles in your hand and lower arms over time, which could lead to more serious problems down the line.

RSI tends to be more common in older adults, with 24% of 41-63 year olds stating they’ve been affected by the condition, in comparison to 16% of those aged 18-30.

With a 2016 study by the Health and Safety Executive revealing that repetitive strain injury affects 730 working people in every 100,000  up from 600 per 100,000 in 2011  it’s clear that our modern working and leisure lives is causing this condition to become even more widespread.

But what symptoms should we look out for so we can alter our daily habits accordingly?

Symptoms of RSI

Symptoms of repetitive strain injury can include pain, aching or tenderness, stiffness, throbbing, tingling or numbness, weakness or cramps.

RSI symptoms can range from mild to severe and tend to develop gradually. In the beginning, you might only notice the symptoms when you’re doing a specific repetitive action but without treatment, RSI symptoms could become constant and result in longer pain periods. 

Many people who commute daily by public transport or car tend to suffer from back pain, shoulder pain or neck pain due to being stationary for long periods of time. In fact, according to a study by eBay Motors, 48% of UK drivers suffer from a variant of RSI called repetitive driving injury (RDI), with the five most commonly experienced RDI symptoms being:

  • Foot cramp (81%)
  • Lumbar pain (74%)
  • Stiff neck (74%)
  • Side ache (74%)
  • Headache/eye strain (73%)

Causes of RSI

Drivers are more likely to experience symptoms of RSI if they sit for long periods of time, move their body awkwardly, lift objects in and out of the vehicle, or have poor posture.

eBay Motors’ study on repetitive driving injury focused on identifying the most common driving positions among UK drivers and their associated problems. Here’s a summary of the results:

  1. Tension  ‘Rollercoaster’ drivers lean forward and sit upright with their seat forward, arms and legs bent.
  2. Incorrect posture  ‘Multi-taskers’ drive with a straight back, their arms are bent and they have one hand resting on the gear stick. This is a common position among mobile workers, who often use their vehicle as a second office.
  3. Incorrect seat position  ‘Racers’ drive with straight arms and legs, with their seat reclined in a low driving position, which can cause lumbar pain.

RSI Prevention

There are easy steps you can take to kick bad-driving habits and help prevent repetitive strain injuries from worsening. Not only can they help correct your posture, these tips can help prevent symptoms of RDI affecting your work and home life:

Don’t get tense – If you’re a tense driver, the best thing you can do is try to relax in your seat as much as you can. Make sure you adjust your seat so that it’s comfortable and supportive when you’re on the road.

Maintain good grip – Keep both hands on the wheel and recline slightly for a more comfortable position.

Keep it crystal clear Multi-taskers often complain of eye strain, so correct eye wear and clean and clear windows are also important.

Flex it out – At traffic lights or during driving breaks, gently move your arms, legs and neck to relieve tension.

Get comfy – Any seating position can become uncomfortable after a period of time, so aim to adjust your seat very slightly as you travel to avoid aches and cramps.

Relax – Remember, take at least a 15-minute break every two hours to keep your body and mind comfortable and alert.

Reducing the Risk

It’s important that you’re protected against the risks that repetitive strain injury can create when you’re driving often – especially if your vehicle is the lifeblood of your business. For example, RSI pain could prevent you from being able to meet client expectations, cause your business to grind to an unexpected halt or even result in an employee claiming for a work-related injury.

That’s why it could be a good idea to invest in van insurance and axa employers' liability insurance to help add that extra level of protection to your business and employees, so that you can rest easy in the knowledge that your investment is in safe hands if the worst happens.

Keep your van moving – no matter what

At AXA, we want to make sure protecting your van, and keeping your business moving, is as simple as possible. Take a look at our help and advice for van drivers, and once you have the information you need, get a business van insurance quote and save 10% when you book online.