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Repetitive Strain Injuries

Repetitive Strain Injuries

What are Repetitive Strain Injuries?

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a term used to describe a group of conditions affecting the tendons, tendon sheaths, muscles, nerves and joints caused by repetitive movements, tasks, vibrations, forceful exertion, or awkward/sustained positions. RSI may also be known as repetitive stress injury, repetitive motion injuries, repetitive motion disorder (RMD), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD), occupational overuse syndrome, overuse syndrome, regional musculoskeletal disorder, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs), work-related upper limb disorder, or non-specific upper limb pain.

Causes | Symptoms | Treatment | Prevention

Repetitive strain injuries cause persistent, chronic or recurring pain in many areas of the body, the most common places to develop a repetitive strain injury include:

  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Forearms
  • Biceps
  • Hands
  • Wrists
  • Elbows

What Kinds of Repetitive Strain Injuries can you get?

illustration of a hand wearing a brace due to carpal tunnel syndrome a repetitive strain injury

Repetitive stress injuries are not a diagnosis but a set of conditions whose onset is attributed to repetitive movements or tasks. Some examples of conditions that may be caused by repetitive stress include:

What Causes Repetitive Strain Injuries?

Repetitive strain injuries are caused by the stress of repetitive movements, forceful exertion or holding an awkward position for long periods of time. The constant repetition of the tasks creates microscopic tears in the tissue faster than the body can heal them. Common activities and risk factors that can lead to a repetitive strain injury include:

  • Repetitive motions
  • Using computer for long period of time
  • Texting or using a cell phone
  • Playing video games
  • Poor workstation ergonomics
  • Bad posture or holding the same posture for long periods of time
  • Overuse of a muscle or muscle group
  • Using vibrating equipment
  • Carrying or lifting heavy loads
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Poorly fitted or improper sporting equipment
  • Playing sports (tennis, golf, running, or jogging)
  • Growth spurts (in children in teens)

What are Signs and Symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injuries?

Repetitive strain injuries are the result of continuous damage to muscles, tendons, tendon sheaths, ligaments, nerves, or joints. You may experience a way range of symptoms including:

  • Persistent or recurring pain
  • Numbness, tingling or a loss of sensation
  • Weakness, fatigue or a loss of strength
  • Pulsing or throbbing pain
  • Popping, clicking or cracking sensation or sound
  • Feeling stiff, achy or sore
  • Tenderness over a joint

How are Repetitive Strain Injuries Treated?

Depending on the area affected and the exact condition, repetitive strain injury treatment varies and can include:

  • Medication: Anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin or ibuprofen, muscle relaxants, or antidepressants may be used to reduce pain.
  • Heat or Ice Therapy: Reduce swelling and ease pain with ice or heat therapy.
  • Splinting: Splitting the affected area offers support and strength.
  • Injections: Steroid injections are used to treat some specific conditions.
  • Surgery: Often a last resort, surgery is an option when other treatments are unsuccessful.
  • Physiotherapy: Exercises, bracing, and manual therapy are combined with patient education to reduce stress on the affected area.

Physiotherapy for Repetitive Strain Injuries

Physical therapy is a non-invasive, drug-free treatment for many repetitive stress injuries. Not only can it reduce stress on the affected area, but physiotherapy can also help slow or stop an injury from worsening. Physiotherapy for repetitive strain injuries varied depending on the condition and its severity and can include:

  • Ergonomic workstation assessment
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Manual therapy
  • Therapeutic ultrasound
  • Heat therapy
  • Patient education and activity modification
  • Splinting or bracing

Can Repetitive Strain Injuries go Away on their on?

No, without rest or changing how you perform tasks repetitive strain injuries are unlikely to go away on their own. However, in some cases, resting or taking frequent breaks can lessen symptoms.

Can you Prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries?

Yes and no. You can take steps to reduce your risk of developing repetitive stress injuries but short of stopping the aggravating activity, there is no guarantee that you can prevent it. However, activity modification can help reduce symptoms and speed healing. If you can’t stop doing the aggravating activity, try these prevention tips

  • Take frequent breaks: If you sit all day be sure to take short breaks to stand and walk around.
  • Rest your eyes: Reduce eye strain by staring at an object in the distance for a few moments.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Eat well, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking.
  • Set up your workstation: Make sure your workstation is ergonomically aligned.
  • Practice good posture: sit up or stand straight with your head aligned over your pelvis