Repetitive strain injury (RSI) 

Introduction 

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Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse.

It's also called work-related upper limb disorder or non-specific upper limb pain.

The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the forearm, elbow, wrist, hands, neck and shoulders. The symptoms can vary, but often include:

  • pain or tenderness
  • stiffness
  • tingling or numbness
  • cramp

If you develop these symptoms and you think it may be related to your job, speak to your employer or occupational health representative about your concerns and ways you could modify your tasks to relieve the symptoms.

See your GP if symptoms persist despite attempts to alter how you work.

Read more about the symptoms of repetitive strain injury (RSI).

What causes RSI?

RSI is 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.

Certain things are thought to increase the risk of RSI, including:

  • doing a high-intensity activity for a long time without rest
  • poor posture or activities that require you to work in an awkward position
  • stress
  • cold temperatures

Read more about the causes of repetitive strain injury (RSI).

How RSI is treated

The first step in treating RSI is usually to identify and modify the task or activity that is causing the symptoms. If necessary, you may need to stop doing the activity altogether.

To relieve symptoms, your GP may advise taking a course of anti-inflammatory painkillers (such as aspirin or ibuprofen), or using a heat or cold pack, elastic support or splint.

You may also be referred to a physiotherapist for advice on posture and how to strengthen or relax your muscles. Some people find that other types of therapy help to relieve symptoms, including massage, yoga and osteopathy.

RSI can be divided into two types. Type I is when the pain is the result of a specific medical condition, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow. Type II is when no specific cause can be found and is often referred to as non-specific upper limb pain.

Read more about diagnosing repetitive strain injury (RSI) and treating repetitive strain injury (RSI).

How to prevent RSI

Employers have a legal duty to prevent work-related RSI and make sure that the symptoms of anyone who already has the condition do not get worse.

Most employers will carry out a risk assessment when you join a company to check your work area is suitable and comfortable for you.

There are also things you can do to help reduce your risk of RSI, such as maintaining a good posture at work, taking regular breaks from long or repetitive tasks, and trying relaxation techniques if you are stressed.

Read more about preventing repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Page last reviewed: 17/12/2013

Next review due: 17/12/2015

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