A combination of medical intervention and lifestyle modifications are needed in order to offer a cure for a repetitive strain injury (RSI).
RSI, also referred to as upper limb work related disorder, is a general term used to describe pain of muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse (National Health Service). It most frequently occurs in those who work with computers or in repetitive manual labour. This condition mostly affects parts of the upper body including the neck, shoulder, elbow, wrists and forearm.
There are two types of RSI:
Specific named conditions, including:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Golfers elbow (medial epicondylitis)
- Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
Diffuse RSI, where there is no definite diagnosis but a range of symptoms exist (Van Tulder et al 2007).
The symptoms of RSI may include:
Cure for repetitive strain injury
The most commonly prescribed pharmalogical interventions include anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants and steroid injections. Other non-pharmalogical interventions include physiotherapy, acupuncture and massage. More aggressive forms of RSI may require surgical intervention to relieve nerve compression such as in carpal tunnel syndrome and very occasionally in epicondylitis and deQuevain’s syndrome (a condition affecting the tendon sheath surrounding two tendons that control movement at the thumb).
Physiotherapy treatment for repetitive strain injury
Physiotherapy aims to restore normal movement to injured tissues. Each treatment is tailored to the individual patient and may include joint mobilisation, exercise therapy, electrotherapy and specialised techniques to help mobilise nerve tissue affected by RSI. The physiotherapist can also help to develop a programme to improve postural awareness, incorporate changes to work practices such as more regular breaks and provide ergonomic information.
What can you do to prevent repetitive strain injury?
Aspects of your working environment are likely to have an impact on the intensity of your RSI. Most employers will carry out a workspace assessment or provide the facility for such an assessment to ensure that you are working in an optimal position. You may also be able to help reduce your symptoms by ensuring your keyboard-typing and posture position are not contributing to your symptoms.
It is also important to look at other aspects of your lifestyle such as participation in regular exercise and other interests outside of work as well as your current stress levels.
Although it is possible to cure a repetitive strain injury it is highly likely that those who experience them will have to make adjustments in their work and personal lives in order to prevent a reoccurrence of symptoms. Each individual reacts differently to treatment and the recovery time may vary. While treatment may initially relieve the symptoms self management through work and general lifestyle changes are vital to sustain the relief and cure for repetitive strain injury.
Clinical epidemiological study of relations between upper limb soft tissue disorders and repetitive movements at work by CJ English and others. Institute of Occupational Medicine Research Report TM/88/19
Van Tulder M, Malmivaara A, Koes B (May 2007). "Repetitive strain injury". Lancet 369 (9575):1815–22. .
Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services