In simple medical terms, repetitive strain injury (RSI) is defined as a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) stemming from prolonged repetitive, forceful, or awkward hand movements. The result is damage to muscles, tendons, and nerves of the neck, shoulder, forearm, and hand, which can cause pain, weakness, numbness, or impairment of motor control.
You may wonder how seemingly innocuous activities such as typing and clicking a mouse button could possibly be harmful. Fine hand movements, repeated hour after hour, day after day, thousands upon thousands of times, eventually strain the muscles and tendons of the forearms, wrists, and fingers, causing microscopic tears. Injured muscles tend to contract, decreasing the range of motion necessary for stress free work. The sheaths that cover delicate tendons run out of lubrication because they aren't given time to rest, so tendon and sheath chafe, resulting in pain. Due to this abrasion, tendons become inflamed, and begin to pinch neighboring nerves. This can result in numbness, tingling, or hypersensitivity to touch. Unless this cycle is interrupted, it repeats itself over and over, and a long-term, chronic problem results.
Repetitive strain injury can affect more than just your hands and wrists. Poor posture can lead to severe neck and back injuries. Staring at a computer screen can lead to eye strain. Repetitive reaching for a mouse can lead to arm and neck strain as well as spinal asymmetry.
RSI is not a specific medical diagnosis, but rather a family of disorders. Many people mistakenly equate RSI with carpal tunnel syndrome, even though CTS is only one particular form of RSI. One recent study even reported that frequent computer users are no more likely to develop CTS than non-computer users. Don't let this mislead you, though. Many other forms of RSI do come on as a result of frequent computer use.
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a potentially debilitating condition resulting from overusing the hands to perform a repetitive task, such as typing, clicking a mouse, or writing. Anyone who uses a computer regularly is at risk and should know about RSI. Unfortunately, most people are uninformed and do not understand what RSI is or how serious it can be. 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:
- Use RSI friendly equipments, Chair, Table, Keyboard, Mouse, etc.'
- 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
- Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs
- Orthopedic hand braces
- Soft Tissue Therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Alexander technique
- Tai Che
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.