Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
If you are feeling pain in muscles, nerves and/or tendons due to repetitive movement and overuse, then you are suffering from an RSI injury. In most cases, the RSI injury is in the upper limbs of the body - usually in the wrist and hand, forearm and elbow or the neck and shoulders.
Repetitive stress injuries plague the manufacturing and customer-service based industries. 10 years ago, RSI injuries cost US employers on average over 1 billion US dollars per year and is probably quite a bit high now. Estimates suggest that RSI conditions cost the UK (United Kingdom) industry between 5 billion and 10 billion British Pounds every year. (reference)
Symptoms of RSI can include numbness, swelling, pain, stiffness, weakness or tingling in the shoulders, back, neck, hands, wrists, elbows and lower limbs. Initially, the symptoms will manifest themselves only when you are performing the repetitive action. Over time, the symptoms will increase in both intensity and duration; without treatment the symptoms will eventually become constant and will not disappear when you are not performing the repetitive task(s).
Discomfort brought on by a particular task will likely improve when it is stopped. For example, if RSI is work related - the pain lessens or disappears over weekends or during holidays. As the RSI worsens, the discomfort may begin in one area but then spread to other parts of the body; this may manifest as sore shoulders, neck pain, stiffness in the limbs and hands. The earlier RSI is detected, the greater the likelihood that the condition can be reversed or symptoms can be eased.
As said in the opening paragraph, RSI occurs from repetitive movement and overuse of muscles and tendons so the causes of RSI are generally straightforward but there are mitigating factors. Generally accepted activities that increase the risk of contracting RSI are:
- repetitive movements of a specific set of joints or muscles (ie. typing)
- high intensity activities for long periods of time without adequate rest (digging with a shovel, slinging a sledgehammer, etc.)
- posture related issues over a long term that involve working in an awkward position
Probable Mitigating Factors
I say "probable" here as the mitigating factors outlined below are not necessarily proven yet they show up in a lot of RSI sufferers. If you have read about muscle strain on this website, then much of the mitigating factors make sense as they all contribute to low bloodflow and high muscle contraction over long periods.
- vibrating equipment (ie. jackhammers, chainsaws)
- cold temperature
If you have been diagnosed with RSI, the usual first step is to find out what exactly you are doing that is causing the RSI with the intent of either modifying or stopping the activity. is to rest the limb from aggravating factors (especially the task(s) that incited the condition). Your physician may also recommend painkillers/anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy, massage, ultrasound or even surgery in some cases.