What is RSI?

RSI stands for Repetitive Strain Injury and is usually associated with injuries to the forearm, wrist and hand. However, repetitive strain injuries can occur throughout the body. RSI is caused by repetitive movements of the wrist or fingers and is an umbrella term for a whole range of conditions, which include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendonitis (various forms)
  • Bursitis
  • Muscle inflammation

What causes RSI?

As already mentioned, RSI is caused by repetitive movements. These are usually either occupational, such as typing or using a computer mouse or sport related as in racket sports. Other occupations at risk include manual and production line workers, cleaners, dress-makers and musicians. The problem is usually exacerbated by factors such as poor posture, inadequate wrist support or desk set-up, poor sporting technique or inadequate equipment.

What are the symptoms?

RSI is an overuse injury and so symptoms gradually develop and become more severe over a period of time. Initially the symptoms tend to only occur whilst performing the aggravating activity, however with no rest or treatment they will progress, to be present with other activities and then even present at rest. The following symptoms are common:

  • Pain
  • Dull ache
  • Throbbing
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Tightness

Early symptoms including a weak, tired and aching feeling in the hands and wrists following a days work, are often not recognised.

RSI is often devided into two types:

Type 1 RSI includes conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, de quervains tenosynovitis and frozen shoulder. These conditions are often a result of overuse, but not always. They also often present with symptoms which are atypical of RSI’s, for example swelling and inflammation, which are not present in true RSI conditions.

Type 2 RSI conditions are less well defined. There is no swelling or inflammation and sometimes the cause of the pain is not known. Repetitive motion is always a factor. These conditons are true RSI’s although are often given other names such as ‘diffuse RSI’, ‘occupational overuse syndrome’ and ‘non-specific pain syndrome’.

There is no test or imaging which can diagnoses RSI. Diagnosis is therefore made based on a history of the clients condition, symptoms, occupation and sporting involvement

What can the athlete do?

  • Rest from the aggravating activity. This can be easier said than done if it is a work-related activity. However, making modifications to your workspace or work responsibilities may be possible.
  • Take more regular breaks, move about and stretch the arms and wrists
  • The use of a wrist braceor support can help in the early stages to provide additional support and comfort
  • Apply cold therapy when it is stiff or painful

What can an injury specialist or Doctor do?

  • For conditions which have become inflamed, anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofencan be prescribed
  • Provide strengthening or stretching exercises to help improve your posture and strengthen the associated muscles
  • Therapies such as massage, ultrasoundand acupuncture have been shown to help in some cases
  • In the most severe inflammatory cases, Corticosteroid injections may be considered