Repetitive Strain Injury

The term repetitive strain injury (RSI) describes a range of painful conditions of the muscles, tendons and other soft tissues.  It is often related to an occupational task or certain leisure activities.  It is also known as repetitive motion disorder (RMD), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD), occupational overuse syndrome and regional musculoskeletal disorder.


There are various types of RSI that affect almost any moveable part of the body, but symptoms primarily develop in the hand, wrist and arm.


Cause of Repetitive Strain Injury

Certain activities can increase your risk of repetitive strain injury; these include:


  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Stressing the same muscles through repetitive movements
  • Excessive use of modern technological devices such as PlayStations and smart phones
  • Desk jobs that involve long periods using a keyboard and mouse


Other occupations that can increase your risk of developing RSI include:


  • Dental hygienists
  • Workers using vibrating power tools
  • Chefs
  • Domestic staff
  • Musicians


Symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury

Symptoms of RSI tend to develop gradually, with discomfort easing when you stop performing a repetitive task. However, over time, your symptoms will become progressively worse and you are likely to feel pain even when not performing repetitive tasks.  Typical symptoms of RSI include:


  • A throbbing or pulsating sensation in the affected area
  • Tingling in the hand or arm
  • Tightness
  • Tenderness or pain in the affected muscle or joint
  • A dull ache
  • Loss of sensation or strength


Types of Repetitive Strain Injury

RSI is categorised into two groups: Type 1 and 2.


Type 1 RSI

Type 1 RSI is a musculoskeletal disorder.  Symptoms usually include swelling and inflammation of specific muscles or tendons.  There are a number of medical conditions and injuries that can cause Type 1 RSI, including:


  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Dupuytren’s contracture
  • Tendonitis
  • Tenosynovitis
  • Ganglion cyst
  • Writer’s cramp (part of a family of disorders known as dystonia)
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon


Type 2 RSI

Type 2 RSI has a range of causes where symptoms do not fit into a well-defined syndrome.  It is often related to nerve damage resulting from work activities and is sometimes called Diffuse RSI or non-specific pain syndrome.


Diagnosing Repetitive Strain Injury

A doctor can usually diagnose RSI by taking a full medical history and carrying out a thorough physical examination. You will be asked questions about what type of repetitive tasks you regularly perform, what causes the discomfort, when it tends to happen and when it feels worse.  During the physical examination, they will perform a range of motion tests and check for inflammation, tenderness, reflexes and strength in the affected area.


Your doctor may also refer you for imaging tests such as an MRI or Ultrasound scan.


Even if you are only experiencing mild discomfort, it is still a good idea to discuss your pain and discomfort to ensure your symptoms do not worsen.


Treatment for Repetitive Strain Injury

Conservative treatment methods (non-surgical) are recommended to manage symptoms.  These include:


  • Exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist that form part of a treatment plan
  • Over the counter medication such as ibuprofen to reduce inflammation
  • RICE: Rest, ice, compression and elevation
  • Steroid injections
  • Wearing a splint to protect and rest the muscles and tendons
  • Stress reduction and relaxation techniques


Your doctor or physiotherapist may also suggest workplace adjustments if your condition is caused through computer use.  This will help minimise muscle strain.


Preventing Repetitive Strain Injury

It can be difficult to prevent RSI from developing or worsening if the cause is workplace related, but the following adjustments will help:


  • Place your computer monitor about arm’s length away from you.  The screen should be at eye level so you are looking straight ahead.
  • If possible, try standing at your desk for approximately 20 – 30 minutes each hour.
  • When sitting at a desk, sit up straight and avoid slouching as this places unnecessary stress on your muscles.
  • Avoid sitting crossed legged.
  • When using a phone, try to use a headpiece rather than resting it into your shoulder.
  • Take regular breaks from your desk


Regardless of whether or not your work is desk related, it is important to eat a healthy diet and take regular exercise. You should also stop smoking as this reduces blood flow.



Prevention is key in order to minimise your risk of developing repetitive strain injury.  If diagnosed, early detection means most people will recover within 3 – 6 months.  However, individuals who experience chronic, debilitating symptoms will require continual management to ease pain.


Need Help?

Treatment for repetitive strain injury is available at One Ashford Hospital in Kent. 


One Ashford Hospital is ideally located for patients in Ashford, Maidstone, Dover, Canterbury, Folkestone and all nearby areas.  To book an appointment, call the hospital direct on 01233 364 022 or email here.