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Repetitive Strain Injury


Repetitive Strain Injury

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is an umbrella term, used to refer to various musculo-skeletal injuries. 

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the most common medical diagnosis for those suffering from RSI.
  • Tendonitis commonly results from overuse and consequent inflammation of the tendon in the wrist, forearms, elbow or shoulder.
  • Tenosynovitis or Trigger Finger is the swelling of the tendon sheath in the finger or thumb, causing pain when these tendons move and often an audible creaking. This might be part of a rheumatic disease but a bacterial infection is another possible cause.
  • Bursitis is the inflammation of a bursa, a small sac of fibrous tissue lined with synovial membrane, filled with fluid, and used to reduce friction. They form at joints and where tendons pass over bones. This can happen in response to unusual pressure or friction. The inflammation causes joint pain and stiffness.
  • Epicondylitis is caused by inflammation of the tendons, often the result of tiny ruptures to the muscle around the funny bone, which attaches the forearm muscles to the elbow on the inside of the elbow.

What Causes Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?

Many things have been blamed including:

  • Physiological causes such as vitamin deficiencies, wrist shape, neck and spine bone shape, plus overall physical and mental health have all been implicated.
  • Women appear to be at a higher risk, possibly because of the nature of traditional female work but studies have shown an increase in symptoms while taking oral contraceptives, during pregnancy and after the menopause.
  • Poor posture, bad work habits, long hours, stressful work, physical stress, heavy workloads and an improper exercise regime coupled with lack of regular breaks are all known to cause RSI.
The most general explanation for the cause of RSI is repeated compression in areas where the nerves or blood supply are susceptible to pinching during sustained activity. If this damage is not given time to recover and, if necessary, heal, then an RSI might result.

What Can Computer Users Do? 

Be alert for early symptoms. Common ones include:

  • Tenderness and pain in the neck, shoulder, upper back, arm, elbow and hands
  • Swelling in the hands and forearms
  • Muscle twitches or spasms
  • Tingling and loss of sensation in the hand or arm
  • Unexplained weakness and strength in the hands and arms, such as when gripping handles
  • Decreased sensitivity or unusual sensations such as numbness or loss of feeling in the hand
  • Stiffness or locking of the fingers, hands and possibly arms when working


As the problem starts with mild pain, which might be perceived simply as tiredness during the working day, be alert. The point at which tiredness becomes pain is subjective. Initially the condition goes away overnight. But if you do not heed these warnings, the pain in your hands, wrists and arms might become persistent. RSI is a progressive condition.

Time how long you can type without feeling any symptoms and record this time. Then set this as a limit and make sure you always work less than this, then take a break. As far as RSI is concerned, a change is often as good as a rest, so shuffle some papers, read through what you have written or perform a different task to allow time to rest your arms and hands.

Make sure your work area is ergonomically sensible. Check out your working environment. Become self-conscious about your posture until you establish good habits and eliminate bad practice.Employ some of the available technology such as voice recognition software to reduce the amount of work your hands have to do.


  • Several short breaks are better than a few long ones. Just let your arms relax in your lap or at your side for a few minutes. Every half-hour find an excuse to get up from your desk to loosen your neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Gentle exercise such as swimming, walking and stretching and massage are good to maintain muscular condition which probably helps avoid tiredness.
  • Massage is relaxing and may help to stretch muscles but also risks aggravating the injury.
  • Stretching prior to every activity, whether it is work or play, is always recommended.
  • Put ice or heat packs on affected areas. One reduces swelling, the other stimulates blood flow.
  • Hot baths and saunas also stimulate blood flow which can aid recovery.
  • You can apply a tubular bandage which may help, possibly by limiting the amount you can use your muscles.
  • Yoga, meditation and other body-awareness exercises such as the Alexander Technique can be beneficial for the back, neck and shoulders.

Sources of help

Primary health care workers
Chiropractors and osteopaths
Sports injury specialists and physiotherapists
Equipment that reduces the need to use your hands