Repetitive strain injury, or RSI, can sound scary and some people fear it will end their careers. RSI may be symptomatic in the fingers, elbows and wrists caused by repetitive use, compression, vibrations, or holding fixed positions. Many professions use their hands in their jobs, such as musicians, plumbers, construction workers, chefs, hairdressers, dentists, jewellery makers, drivers, electricians, sportspeople and many more. Though, just about anyone can develop an RSI. Continue tot read to learn what RSI is, symptoms, prevention, and treatments.
What Is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?
Repetitive strain injury, or RSI, is caused by abnormal muscle tension or contraction of muscles that then can over time lead to injury. RSI may be commonly confused with carpal tunnel syndrome. It may cause some hand pain or hand spasm. Physical repetitive tasks are often the main culprits for causing RSI, but it can also occur due to poor posture, heavy work positions, particular actions in sports.
Risk factors for developing RSI may include neurological problems, like nerve disorders and muscle weakness, genetic disorders, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and motor vehicle accidents.
As the name suggests, RSI is a type of injury that happens when the same action or movement is repeated frequently. It’s an overuse injury that can be quite painful and impact a range of motion (ROM).
RSI is most commonly found in wrist and forearm tendons. RSI frequently affects:
- Wrists and hands
- Forearms and elbows
- Neck and shoulders
- Other areas of your body can also be affected
The Symptoms of RSI
A repetitive strain injury usually demonstrates when you become progressively more weak or fatigued with the same movement. The nervous system controls a lot of different functions such as movements of muscles, nerves and joints.
When a muscle or joint becomes progressively weaker, it becomes difficult to perform the same movement again, this increases the risk of injury. For instance, a bowler in a bowling alley may be at risk of strain injury because they are powerfully rotating their elbow. Similarly, many athletes such as rugby players are increasingly at risk of RSI from repetitively smashing their shoulder joints against the ground or in an oppositional manner when tackling.
How To Prevent RSI
The best ways that may prevent RSI is by keeping hands, or other risk areas, mobile and strong by using them regularly in a targeted way.
Strength training is an excellent way to maintain flexibility in the fingers and hand muscles. Aim for 10 to 15 minutes of exercise daily. Beginning with gentle stretches to build up flexibility may be an early approach for you. A Physio or Osteo can prescribe the kinds of strength exercises that may best prevent RSI.
Gentle movement is the best method of preventing RSI. These may be done with tools like an elastic band and putty. A Physio or Osteo can prescribe the kinds of gentle activities that may best prevent RSI.
What Causes Repetitive Strain Injury?
Though RSI can be a common occurrence in everyday life, it can be caused by injuries or trauma to the muscles. However, many people suffer from RSI with no obvious injury or trauma. Sports and activities that involve repetitive movements and activities are risk factors for RSI. It can be caused by tendonitis, muscle tears, sprains and strains. It can also occur due to overuse or strain injuries, in which the muscle is unable to reduce contract.
How Is RSI Diagnosed?
RSI is a collective, generic term for these kinds of injuries – mostly referring to pain in the arm.
If you have even mild pain or discomfort completing repetitive types of tasks at home or in your workplace, you may benefit by seeing a healthcare professional like an Osteo, Physio or Chiro. They will ask you questions about your activities noting repetitive movements and computer ergonomic workstation. In addition, they may conduct a physical assessment, including a range of motion tests, check for inflammation, reflexes, and strength.
What If RSI Goes Untreated?
The official medical diagnosis of these bio-mechanical conditions or may lead to serious conditions such as:
- Repetitive motion injuries or disorders (RMD)
- Ulnar Nerve Compression
- Golfers Elbow
- Regional musculoskeletal disorder
- Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs)
- Lateral Epicondylitis
- Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS)
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Medial Epicondylitis
- Repetitive stress injuries
- De Quervain’s Syndrome
- Occupational or sports overuse injuries
- Extremity weakness
- Ganglionic cysts
- Tendinopathies (e.g Rotator Cuff, Hip)
- Tennis elbow
- Cubital tunnel syndrome
- Plantar Fasciopathy
- Osteitis Pubis
- Achilles Tendinopathy
What Treatments Can I Use For RSI?
For sportspeople and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, physicians may prescribe an ice pack for the symptoms. Other common treatments may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, osteopathic techniques, infrared heating, physiotherapy, electrical stimulation, or splint, and massage. Corticosteroids may be used, but need to be carefully considered.
Practitioners may prescribe lightweights, foot strapping or compression, strengthening exercises, bracing or fascial release. With regards to the hands, treatments usually aim to increase blood flow to the hands. Some therapists may suggest massage, often performed with a firm hand massage machine.
Repetitive Strain Injury Treatment Options
The initial treatment for RSI symptoms is conservative. This may include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Hot-cold therapy
- Medication (including over-the-counter or prescriptions)
- Physical exercises prescribed as part of a physical therapy treatment plan
- Stress reduction and relaxation training
- As a last resort, surgery to correct nerve/tendon issues
Why Use Massage Therapy for Repetitive Strain Injury Treatment?
Massage therapy is a great alternative, the conservative treatment you may want to consider before other treatment options, including the following:
It works to reduce pain and may help to heal the injury by doing the following:
- It boosts blood and lymphatic circulation, helping the body to eliminate poisonous toxins and reduce swelling
- Massage reduces the pain caused by tension in the muscles
- It helps to promote healthy regeneration of tissue and tendons damaged by the RSI
- It increases motion range by stretching tissue and relaxing tight muscles
- Massage improves scar tissue and decreases the chances of re-tearing
A repetitive strain injury (RSI) is usually caused by the repetitive use of muscles, tendons or ligaments. This repetitive strain creates a small but continuous force against the tendon, which can lead to deterioration and possibly fractures. RSI in the body can affect your flexibility, strength, power, work rate, movements, fatigue and confidence. Rehabilitation with a therapist can be the best solution to relieve RSI pain and correct the underlying causes before it becomes more severe.