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Repetitive strain injury (RSI)

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Repetitive strain injury (RSI), also called work-related upper limb disorder, is a general term used to describe the pain from muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse.

The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the forearm, elbow, wrist, hands, neck and shoulders, and may also cause stiffness and swelling.

Types of RSI

There are two types of RSI:

  • Type 1 RSI – This is when a doctor can diagnose a recognised medical condition from your symptoms (see below). It is usually characterised by swelling and inflammation of the muscles or tendons.
  • Type 2 RSI – This is when a doctor cannot diagnose a medical condition from your symptoms. This is usually because there are no obvious symptoms, apart from pain. Type 2 RSI is also referred to as non-specific pain syndrome.

There are several medical conditions and injuries that can be classed as type 1 RSI, including:

  • bursitis – inflammation and swelling of the fluid-filled sac near the joint of the knee, elbow or shoulder
  • carpal tunnel syndrome – pressure on the median nerve passing through the wrist
  • tendonitis – inflammation of a tendon

Causes of RSI

RSI is usually associated with doing a particular activity repeatey or for a long period of time. It often occurs in people who work with computers or carry out repetitive manual work. In the UK, one worker in every 50 has reported an RSI condition.

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

  • doing an activity for a long time without rest
  • doing an activity that involves force, such as lifting heavy objects
  • poor posture or activities that require you to work in an awkward position

Treating RSI

The first step in treating repetitive strain injury (RSI) is often to identify and stop doing the task or activity that is causing the symptoms.

To relieve symptoms, your doctor may advise:

  • taking a course of anti-inflammatory
  • having steroid injections to reduce inflammation in an affected area

You may also be referred to a physiotherapist for advice on posture and how to strengthen or relax your muscles.

Preventing RSI

Most employers carry out workplace assessments to ensure you are comfortable, but you may be able to help prevent RSI by ensuring your posture and typing style are not causing the symptoms.

It’s also good to look at other aspects of your lifestyle, including hobbies and your general stress levels.