A repetitive strain injury (RSI) refers to a broad umbrella of injuries to the nervous system and muskuloskeletal system. As the name implies, the ‘injury’ is the result of any repetitive process that physically stresses various parts of the human body and can cause inflammation and damage to the soft tissues (muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments).
These repetitive movements may take the form of any repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, and sustained or awkward positions.
The reason why some people get repetitive strain injuries while others don’t is something that is still unclear. However, the main risk factor is doing anything in a repetitive fashion that physically stresses the body and not allowing the body to adapt to the stress.
Some of the signs and symptoms of RSI or an overuse injury can be any of the following:
- Burning, aching or shooting pain
- Tremors, clumsiness, decrease to loss of sensation, tingling and numbness
- Fatigue or lack of strength
- Stiffness and decrease or loss of mobility
- Swelling and inflammation over the affected area
- Difficulty with normal activities like opening doors, chopping vegetables, turning on a tap, opening jars
- Pain or discomfort that initially occurs during the repetitive action and subsides during rest.
Symptoms of RSI may disappear when you stop the aggravating factor or activity. The symptoms may last only a few hours or it may take as long as a couple of days to settle. Unfortunately, over time a minor RSI can turn into a chronic injury which may progress in frequency and intensity if the causative action is continued and injury is left untreated.
Some activities that can increase your risk for RSI are:
- Stressing the same muscles through repetition
- Maintaining the same posture for long periods of time
- Maintaining an abnormal posture for an extended period of time, such as holding your arms over your head
- Lifting heavy objects repeatedly
- Being in poor physical condition or not exercising enough
Possible treatment options for RSI include:
- Medication – including a short-term use of anti-inflammatory painkillers
- Cold packs, elastic supports or a splint
- Activity modification
- Stress reduction and relaxation techniques
- Complementary therapies such as ‘hands-on therapies’ including physiotherapy, osteopathy or massage
- Exercises, which may be prescribed as part of a physical therapy treatment plan
- Steroid injections to reduce inflammation in an affected area
- Surgery as a last resort! To correct specific problems with nerves or tendons (for example, if you are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome) if any other conservative treatment options haven’t helped and this is the ONLY solution
Tips to prevent RSI
- Take a break! For a few minutes to every hour or so, get up and walk around, stretch/move the muscles that feel sore or tight
- Vary your position and posture! Even though we strive for an optimum posture when working or sitting at the desk or even in our daily activities and lifestyle. The truth is that there is no perfect posture or ideal posture and any posture, even a perfect one can lead to pain if it ‘s held for a prolonged period of time. So mix it up! Slouch a bit, cross your legs, sit upright, its ok it’s normal and it’s not harmful as long as you move regularly.
- If you work at a computer all day, make sure your seat, keyboard, mouse and screen are positioned so they cause the least amount of strain.
- Exercise regularly! Include in your weekly or monthly routine a strengthening, stretching and aerobic program such as swimming, running, cycling, gym, group classes like Pilates or Yoga or even sports and hobbies such as golf, tennis, netball and dancing
- Trying breathing exercises if you’re stressed.
- Visit a health care practitioner at Woodside Clinic! Our physiotherapists and osteopaths will be able to identify the problem that might be leading to your RSI and offer some advice or treatment to help you settle the pain and prevent any recurring episodes in the future. Our therapists will use a wide variety of treatment options including manual therapy, manipulation techniques, acupuncture, electrotherapy, exercise prescription, pain management strategies and self management techniques.