What is Repetitive Strain Injury?
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons caused by repetitive movement, improper technique, and overuse. This is a very common condition that affects more than 3 million people per year. The elderly are the most common age group to be affected by this injury.
What are the symptoms?
This condition generally occurs in parts of the upper body:
- Forearms and elbows
- Wrists and hands
- Neck and shoulders
Common Repetitive Strain Injuries include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: A numbness or tingling in the hand and arm due to a pinched nerve in the wrist.
- Bursitis: An inflammation of the bursa which are fluid-filled pads that act as cushions in the joints.
- Tendonitis: An inflammation of the tissue that connects the muscles to the bones.
- Tennis elbow: A type of tendonitis that is caused by the repetitive movement of the wrist and arm.
The symptoms of RSI can range from mild to severe and generally develop over time.
- Pain, aching, or soreness
- Sensitivity to temperature
- Tingling or numbness
At the start, you may notice symptoms only when you’re carrying out a certain repetitive action. But over time without treatment, symptoms can become more frequent and last longer. You may notice swelling in the area that may last up to several months.
Certain things can increase your risk of developing RSI like repetitive activities, high-intensity activities without rest, and poor posture.
How can RSI be treated?
Firstly, identify and modify the task that is at fault for your symptoms. From here attempt to make adjustments to your work environment that can benefit your condition. If necessary, stop doing the activity. Your GP may recommend taking anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen. They may also suggest using a hot or cold compress, splint, or even steroid injections. Some people find that physiotherapy helps relieve symptoms like massage, yoga, or light exercise.
Very rarely does this condition require surgery. In some cases like carpal tunnel syndrome, it may be necessary. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist who can better identify and treat your injury.
How can you prevent RSI?
Employers have a legal duty to prevent work-related RSI or stop existing RSI from progressing. Your employer should be conscious of your work environment and look for possible issues. They may need to intervene to ensure you’re working safely. If you’re experiencing any sort of discomfort while performing your work duties, speak with your employer about ways to change your environment to fit your needs.
To prevent the risk of RSI, you should implement these in your daily work routine:
- Maintain good posture – especially if you work at a desk for long periods
- Take regular breaks from long or repetitive tasks
- Avoid sitting cross-legged
- Invest in or request a standing desk and slowly increase the amount of time you stand to around 20-30 minutes an hour.
- Stretch your shoulders often
Small things like this can make a huge difference in preventing RSI. If your work is not at a desk, you can use these same methods. Try to practice good posture and take regular breaks to let your body rest and recover. If you use tools often for your job, remember to flex your wrists and wiggle your fingers.