Repetitive Strain Injury

Symptoms associated with repetitive physical activity

  • Activities that involve repeated movements are risk factors
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

Prolonged, repeated movements of one part of the body, particularly if the movements are rapid and forceful, can cause symptoms described as repetitive strain injury (RSI). Overuse injury and cumulative trauma disorder are other names for the same condition. RSI most commonly affects the muscles and tendons in the arms. The condition may be associated with stress in the workplace or the home.

People who often carry out repeated movements as part of their everyday work, such as those using a keyboard or working on a production line, are particularly at risk of RSI. Musicians and athletes are also susceptible. Other disorders that cause pain in the muscles and tendons, such as tendinitis and tenosynovitis or carpal tunnel syndrome, can cause symptoms similar to those of RSI.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of RSI develop gradually and at first may occur only while performing the repetitive activity. The symptoms may include:

  • Pain, aching, and tingling.

  • Restricted movement in the affected part of the body.

In the early stages of RSI, the symptoms may disappear when the affected area is rested. Later, you may have symptoms at rest. If you develop RSI, you should consult your doctor without delay since the condition is more difficult to treat once it has become long-standing.

What might the doctor do?

Your doctor will ask about your lifestyle and any repetitive physical activities. Diagnosis is usually made after a physical examination. However, you may also have X-rays and blood tests to rule out disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. Your doctor may also recommend a painkiller or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug to relieve discomfort.

What can I do?

If you believe the symptoms are related to your occupation, you should inform your employer and seek advice from an occupational doctor or nurse. He or she can give you advice about posture changes and special equipment, such as adjustable seating, that may help you to avoid unnecessary strain. You should also make sure you take regular breaks from repetitive tasks. Rarely, a change in work or leisure activities may be advisable.

What is the prognosis?

If RSI is recognized at an early stage and steps are taken to reduce stress at work, you should make a complete recovery. A physiotherapist will probably be able to give you advice on how to use your muscles and build up their strength (see Physiotherapy).

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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