A Guide to Understanding Repetitive Strain Injury

If you’ve ever worked at a computer for a long period of time, you’ve probably experienced sore wrists or fingers as a result of repeating the same movements over and over. If so, you’re one of the many who’ve had a repetitive strain injury (RSI).

RSI is a common condition with several possible causes, and most importantly, it’s preventable. Here’s what it is and how you can avoid getting it.

What is RSI?

RSI covers a wide range of injury types. It’s also known as occupational overuse syndrome, tenosynovitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes it’s known as tendonitis, tennis or golf elbow, bursitis, or housemaid’s knee. While it can take different forms depending on the part of the body injured, RSI essentially describes over usage of muscles and tendons, usually in the upper body.

The wrists are the most commonly affected area, followed by fingers, forearms, and thumbs. RSI can also occur in the elbow or shoulder areas, along with the feet and knees.

Common symptoms

You can recognise RSI by pain, tenderness, or cramping. It’s also common for RSI sufferers to experience stiffness, tingling, and numbness. The affected area might feel weak and you might have throbbing. Swelling can sometimes occur.

Causes of RSI and how to prevent it

Common causes of RSI include repetitive work, poor working posture, and repeated excessive force. Examples of repetitive work include assembly line work, checkout counters, and working on a computer with lots of mouse use or typing.  

Not taking adequate rest breaks, stress, and even cold weather can contribute to RSI.

Working with equipment that doesn’t fit your hand or body or regular contact with vibrating equipment can also add to the condition.

In severe cases, RSI can be irreversible, so it’s important to treat it and stop the offending activity as soon as you experience it. You can prevent it or reduce the risk of developing it by taking regular breaks, varying your tasks, and avoiding staying in one position for too long.

Treatment options

Start by stopping the activity causing your RSI, and talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about possible treatment options.

Self-help and prevention options include the following.

  • Speak to your employer – If it’s a work-related task, talk to your employer about how you can modify the task and your workspace to prevent your RSI from getting worse.
  • Stretches – Incorporate suitable exercises and stretches into your day. If you’re in front of the computer all day, regularly stop and stretch your hands and fingers.
  • Improve posture – Practice correct typing to reduce the risk of RSI if you work in front of the computer. Sit correctly, and avoid slouching and hunching your back. Use a sit-stand desk instead of sitting all day. If you’re doing physical work, talk to your employer about guidelines for correct posture and procedures when carrying out tasks.
  • Breaks – Take regular breaks in addition to your exercises. Use a timer if you’re likely to forget to take breaks.
  • Mouse and keyboard work – If you use a mouse, use keyboard shortcuts, slow down your mouse, and check out no-click mouse software to avoid straining your fingers. Use an ergonomic keyboard for greater comfort.
  • Heat and cold therapies – Use tools such as cold packs and hot water bottles to alleviate symptoms.
  • Exercise – Being active can ease your RSI symptoms, so whether it’s swimming, running, or brisk walking, do regular exercise throughout the week.

Your doctor could guide you on other options if your RSI is severe. Painkillers could allow you to deal with the pain as you make the necessary adjustments at work. You could look into working with a physiotherapist to learn about exercises for treating your RSI. Yoga, massage, and osteopathy could also be beneficial for some people.

Prevention

Especially when it comes to RSI, prevention is always better than treatment, so explore ways you can reduce repetition and strain at work and at home. Be alert to any sign of aches or pains, and make the necessary changes to prevent them from getting worse. RSI usually occurs over a longer period rather than arising suddenly, so if you recognise unusual pains and aches, you might be able to catch it quickly and take preventative measures.

RSI is a broad term encompassing a range of strain-related injuries, but it’s essentially injury from repetition and/or strain. Since it tends to develop over time rather than suddenly, you can usually act quickly to prevent it getting worse. Good posture, staying active, and reviewing work processes can all help you prevent or alleviate RSI.

Disclaimer: The Herron blog is interested in general community wellbeing and information, and does not imply that Herron products should be used for serious ailments without the advice or recommendation from your healthcare practitioner.

All information presented on the Herron website is meant for general knowledge and never meant as a diagnosis of prescription. Please always contact your doctor for health related matters.