Diagnosing repetitive strain injury (RSI) 

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) may be diagnosed when symptoms develop after a repetitive task and fade when the task is stopped.

Your GP will examine the area where you have pain and ask about your symptoms and medical history.

If your symptoms suggest you have swollen and inflamed tissue, you may have an underlying medical condition, such as:

  • bursitis – inflammation and swelling of the fluid-filled sac near a joint, such as the elbow or shoulder
  • nerve entrapment, such as carpal tunnel syndrome 
  • Dupuytren's contracture – a thickening of the tissues in the hand, which causes one or more fingers to bend into the palm 
  • epicondylitis – inflammation of the area where bone and tendon join, such as the elbow
  • rotator cuff syndrome – inflammation of the tendons and muscles around the shoulder
  • tendonitis – inflammation of a tendon
  • tenosynovitis – inflammation of the sheath that covers the tendons, most commonly in the hand, wrist or forearms
  • trigger finger – where swelling in a tendon running along one of the fingers makes it difficult to either bend or straighten the affected finger
  • ganglion cyst – a sac of fluid that forms around a joint or tendon, usually on the wrist or fingers
  • Raynaud's phenomenon – a condition where the blood supply to extremities such as the fingers is interrupted, especially when exposed to cold
  • thoracic outlet syndrome – compression of the nerves or blood vessels that run between the base of the neck and the armpit
  • writer's cramp (a type of dystonia) – a condition that occurs from overuse of the hands and arms

If your symptoms don't immediately suggest one of the above conditions, you may be referred for further tests.

For example, you may be given an X-ray to test for osteoarthritis, or blood tests to rule out inflammatory joint diseases.

If no other condition is found after having tests, you may be diagnosed with "non-specific upper limb pain syndrome".

Page last reviewed: 27/01/2016

Next review due: 01/01/2019