What is RSI?
RSI (or occupational overuse syndrome, work-related upper limb injury or isometric contraction myopathy) is caused by repeated overuse and injury to the muscles of the hands, wrists, arms or shoulders.
For example, constant movement of the fingers by a typist or musician causes stress on the tissues at a microscopic level. This triggers molecular changes such as the release of chemicals which attempt to limit or repair any damage. But sometimes this ability of the body to protect itself is outstripped by prolonged repetitive movement, and injury to the tissues – RSI – becomes established.
Symptoms of RSI may take months, even years, to appear. Initially, only a slight ache may be felt. As the problem gets worse, there’s more marked pain while performing the repeated activity – when typing, for example.
Once the problem has become severe, pain may be felt most of the time, even with the slightest movement.
One or both upper limbs may be affected, depending on which is used to perform the activity responsible for the problem. As well as the pain, numbness and tingling may make holding objects difficult.
The risk of RSI is increased by spending long periods without a break, sitting on an uncomfortable seat, at a poorly arranged workstation.
At work, the computer keyboard and mouse are often responsible for RSI. Home computers, video games and text messaging also increase the risk. Workers on factory assembly lines, musicians, dressmakers and cleaners are also more likely to develop RSI.
Treatment and recovery
Treatment of RSI may include:
- Rest of the affected area
- Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs
- Heat and cold packs
- Elastic wrist supports or firm wrist splints
- Acupuncture, Physiotherapy or Osteopathy
You can reduce your risk of RSI by warming up and cooling down the muscles used, taking regular breaks throughout the day, having an appropriate workstation and seating position, and practising relaxation.
If your job puts you at risk of RSI you should seek out expert advice on prevention from your employer or professional body.