Repetitive Strain Injury - RSI

What is Repetitive Strain Injury? 

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) relates to the overuse of muscles and tendons in the body, particularly the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, back and neck.
There are two types of RSI:

  • Type 1 RSI - This form of RSI is diagnosable from a range of symptoms that impact the musculoskeletal system
  • Type 2 RSI - This isn’t recognisable from the classic symptoms of RSI and is often referred to as non-specific pain syndrome, this is most commonly related to nerve damage

The main symptoms of RSI include:

  • Pain or tenderness in your muscles or joints
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Cramp

RSI typically develops over time and is most common in people who work at a computer, or those who have manual jobs with repetitive motions such as working in a warehouse or in construction. It can also develop if you play a sport that involves a lot of repetitive motion.

What Causes RSI?

RSI is an overuse injury, and so it’s not surprising that it’s common in people who play a lot of sports, or who have leisure activities or jobs that involve repeated motions. When the muscles and tendons are put under continual strain they don’t have time to sufficiently repair themselves

The causes of RSI can be many and varied, and include:

  • Overuse of muscles and tendons
  • Poor posture
  • Repetitive activities
  • Forceful actions
  • Working in low temperatures
  • Holding a particular posture for extended periods of time
  • Stress has also been shown to make RSI worse

A person who works most of the day sat at a computer is just as likely to develop RSI as someone who carries out heavy manual labour.

Can RSI Be Prevented?

Some jobs or activities will put you at much more risk of developing RSI. For example, if you use a computer heavily then the typing and constant moving of a mouse will make you much more susceptible to RSI in the wrist, fingers, elbows, and shoulders.

It may be impossible for you to avoid doing the activities that put you at risk, however it could be that your tasks can be modified to help you. For example, adjusting the position of your computer to ensure your hands and arms aren’t positioned awkwardly.

Some tips to prevent RSI are:

  • Keep your forearms and wrists level when typing to prevent strain on the joints. This may require you to adjust your chair height and the positioning of your keyboard.
  • Take regular breaks from the activity. These don’t have to be long, just a couple of minutes can help. If you cannot stop the activity then see if you can alter your posture to reduce strain. If your job offers not natural way to take a break from the activity, then speak to your employer about arranging rest breaks.
  • Carry out some stretches. Stretching the muscles and tendons in the affected area will relieve tension. You can find advice on some simple stretches that will help manage the pain associated with RSI here.

Treatment for RSI

If altering how you work doesn’t alleviate symptoms of RSI then you should speak to your doctor. Depending on the specifics of your condition and its severity your doctor may advise you on the following:

  • Cold therapy - Reducing the heat around the affected area helps to reduce swelling, which is part of what causes the pain of RSI. It also helps reduce pain.
  • Supports - A splint or elastic support bandage can help stabilise the area, allowing it to begin healing. Our cooling bandages give the support of a compression bandage with the added benefit of faster cooling than a traditional ice pack.
  • Medication - This may be as simple as anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. In cases of severe pain there are other medications that can help.
  • Steroids - In certain instances a course of steroid injections may be prescribed to manage severe inflammation.
  • Surgery - Where damage to nerves and tendons is extensive your doctor may advise surgery, but this is only considered when other treatments have had little or no impact.

The main thing to remember with RSI is that early intervention is important. Ignoring symptoms and ‘soldiering on’ will only result in the condition worsening to the point where things can only be managed, not reversed.


Please Note

Some injuries can be self-treated whilst others require prompt medical attention. You should seek advice from a health professional if: the injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness; you can't tolerate weight on the area; the pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling or joint abnormality or instability.