What is RSI

The short answer! .. with no medical terms ..

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is an umbrella term used to cover a wide range (15+) of separate conditions, listed on the medical conditions page and below, that can be associated with repetitive tasks. 

In the majority of cases, RSI causes a nagging or extreme pain in your wrist, arm, shoulder and back. 

So if you have RSI it might cause pain in any one, or all of these parts of the body.

It can come on quite suddenly, 'out of the blue' or gradually increase over a long period. If you continue with your activities and posture it will get worse and worse.

It may get so bad that you aren't able to do routine work or household activities. The pain may get so bad that it's there all the time, even when you're resting.

If it's not treated reasonably quickly, in some cases the symptoms may become irreversible.

When you first notice symptoms of RSI, you have probably already done substantial damage to yourself. RSI can take months, even years to develop, and you can expect it to take at least twice as long to heal.

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What are the Symptoms?

Tightness, discomfort, stiffness, soreness or burning in the hands, wrists, fingers, forearms, or elbows.

Tingling, coldness, or numbness in the hands.

Clumsiness or loss of strength and coordination in the hands.

Pain that wakes you up at night.

Feeling a need to massage your hands, wrists, and arms.

Pain in the upper back, shoulders, or neck associated with using the computer. 


It's usually associated with doing a particular activity repeatedly or for a long period of time. It often occurs in people who work with computers or carry out repetitive manual work with poor posture or activities that require you to work in an awkward position, or playing certain sports.

There are a number of things that can increase your risk of developing RSI. These include:

Repetitive activities doing an activity that involves force, such as lifting or carrying heavy objects.

Repetitive activities which are lightweight, but which subject muscles to strain they are not used to, such as suspending the hand and arm upwards, for long periods, for computer keyboard or mouse use.

Carrying out an activity for a long period of time without adequate rest periods and poor posture.

Activities that require you to work in awkward or tiring positions, and/or using vibrating equipment.

What are the treatments

Due to the large number of separate medical conditions which can cause this type of pain (see medical conditions page), it's quite hard to diagnose. 

However, although the problems occur in different parts of the anatomy, under different conditions, the treatments are similar.

- Stopping the activity which caused the problem in the first place.

- Exercises to relax and assist the recovery of muscles, tendons and ligaments.

- Prescriptions of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers. Sometimes Steroids.

- In extreme cases surgery may be necessary.



The longer answer! 

Over the course of our lives, our bodies become so habituated to certain patterns of muscle tension, that we are unable to accurately perceive what we are doing to ourselves. 

For example, you may feel like your spine is in a neutral position, when in fact the lower back has too much arch.

Repetitive Strain Injuries occur from repeated physical movements doing damage to tendons, nerves, muscles, and other soft body tissues. There are a wide range (15+) of separate conditions, listed on the medical condition page and below, that can be associated with repetitive tasks.

It's also called work-related upper limb disorder or non-specific upper limb pain. Another name for the condition is Cumulative Trauma Disorder. This can happen even more quickly as a result of typing technique and body positions that place unnecessary stress on the tendons and nerves in the hand, wrist, arms, and even the shoulders and neck. Lack of adequate rest and breaks and using excessive force almost guarantee trouble. 

Occupations ranging from meatpackers to musicians, gamers, and carpenters have characteristic RSI symptoms that can result from the typical tasks they perform. 

The rise of computer use and flat, light-touch keyboards that permit high speed typing have resulted in an epidemic of injuries of the hands, arms, and shoulders.

Use of pointing devices like mice and trackballs are as much of a cause, if not more so. The thousands of repeated keystrokes and long periods of clutching and dragging with mice slowly strains the arm muscles and eventually they react by becoming very painful.

I’m sure you are surprised that seemingly innocuous activities such as typing and clicking a mouse button could possibly be harmful. Repeated minor hand activities hour after hour, day after day, thousands upon thousands of times, eventually strain the muscles and tendons of the forearms, wrists, and fingers, causing microscopic tears. 

Damaged muscles tend to contract, decreasing the range of motion necessary for stress free work. Sheaths covering tendons run out of lubrication because they aren't given time to rest, so tendon and sheath chafe, resulting in pain. 

Due to this abrasion, tendons become inflamed, and begin to pinch neighboring nerves. Unless these movements are is interrupted, the pain will continue and the damage will sometimes become irreversible.

Since the 1970s there has been a worldwide increase in RSIs of the arms, hands, neck, and shoulder attributed to the widespread use of typewriters/computers in the workplace that require long periods of repetitive motions in a fixed posture.

One very common example of a condition included under the umbrella term RSI is  Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you may have heard the term Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in connection with these injuries, but in fact CTS is only a small and dangerous percentage of typing injuries. See more information on Carpel Tunnel Syndrome below.

More examples

- Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.
- Edema.
- Tendinosis.
- Tendinitis.
- Cubital tunnel syndrome.
- De Quervain syndrome, Tenosynovitis.
- Thoracic outlet syndrome.
- Intersection syndrome.
- Golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis).
- Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis).
- Trigger finger (so-called stenosing tenosynovitis).
- Radial tunnel syndrome.
- Focal dystonia. 
- Bursitis. (This affects the hip so is not discussed here)
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
- Myofascial Pain Syndrome. 

All of these are serious and in advanced cases can cause great pain and permanent disability. For more information click on the 'Associated Medical Conditions' button below.






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