Repetitive Strain Injury, or RSI, can start off as a mild annoyance but turn into a condition that causes chronic pain if left untreated. We look at the causes and treatment options so you can start to relieve your pain.
What is Repetitive Strain Injury?
Repetitive Strain Injury or RSI is exactly what it sounds like: an injury caused from doing the same motion over and over again. It’s a complaint that frequently occurs for people working in repetitive jobs e.g. sitting at a desk typing or using a mouse for long periods of time can gradually build up damage to muscles, tendons and nerves; so, can swiping items at a supermarket checkout.
Repetitive strain injuries are also common in sports, particularly those like golf or tennis where the same motion e.g. a shot from the tee or a groundstroke from the baseline is necessary again and again. In fact, when RSI occurs in the elbow, it’s often named after the activity that caused the injury, like ‘tennis elbow’ or ‘computer elbow’.
Where does Repetitive Strain Injury occur?
Although it can affect any part of your body, RSI is most notably found in the upper part of the body. Not only the elbows, but also the forearms; the wrists and hands; the neck and shoulders.
Just as the injuries will develop gradually over time, so will the symptoms. These will include pain – from mild to severe; aching or tenderness; stiffness; swelling; throbbing; tingling or numbness; weakness; and cramp. Stress, cold temperatures and working with vibrating equipment can make the occurrence of RSI more likely and can also make existing symptoms worse.
What causes Repetitive Strain Injury?
Jobs and sport seem to be the main culprits. People with desk jobs and supermarket workers who sit down for long periods are at risk. So too are musicians and bus drivers. Even jobs that are seemingly more active can cause RSI if the work employs the same actions time and again. Cleaners, cooks, builders, decorators and dental hygienists may all suffer.
Aside from repetitive activities, you can find yourself at risk from RSI if you do high-intensity activity for a long period of time without a rest. Or, if you have poor posture or take part in activities that involved working in an awkward position e.g. a decorator painting a ceiling.
How should you treat Repetitive Strain Injury?
Prevention can be better than treatment. Good posture is key to avoiding unnecessary muscle stress when sitting at a desk, for example. You can either build this up with strength exercises or – if you spend a lot of time seated – change the way you sit. This might mean looking at the ergonomics of your workspace; switching from a sitting to a standing desk; making sure the screen is the right height.
Most importantly, you should always try taking regular breaks from your repetitive activity – getting up to stretch and walk around, or simply wiggling your fingers and flexing your wrists regularly.
When you’re unable to prevent RSI, here are some easy ways that you can treat your symptoms at home:
- RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) will help, if you’re able to spend time away from doing what causes the injury.
- Strapping or bandaging the painful area – even using a splint – will protect and rest the tendons and muscles.
- Regularly exercising the area in pain can also help build strength and reduce pain in the long term – see our 5 exercises for elbow pain.
- BioWaveGO’s unique electronic pain blocking technology makes pain relief easy for everyone and can provide pain relief for up to eight hours.