What is Repetitive Stress Injury?



Repetitive stress injury (RSI) is a condition resulting from too much stress placed on a joint in the body. It is linked to the stress of repetitive motions at work or play.


Repetitive stress injury may sound like a modern phenomenon with the advancement of technology, proliferation of gadgets and people’s new way of working and lifestyle in general. This is not so. As early as in 1700, RSI has been described in medical publications.


Common examples of repetitive stress injuries are linked to the stress of repetitive motions from computer use, electronic games, texting, playing musical instruments, overuse injuries in sports and repetitive motion of sports like tennis.


Conditions from RSI


Common conditions resulting from RSI include the following:


  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – Pain, tingling and numbness in the hand due to swelling and compression of a nerve where it passes over the carpal bones.
  • Epicondylitis – soreness in the elbow, which is often called “tennis elbow”
  • Cervical radiculopathy – compression in the disc in the neck area. Prolonged and repetitive cradling in the shoulder of a phone is a common cause.
  • Ganglion cyst – swelling in the wrist due to the leaking of fluid substance from a tendon sheath or joint.
  • Tendonitis – Inflammation and tearing of tendons that connect bones to muscles.
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy – characterized by swollen hands and muscle control loss.


Causes of RSI


The specific causes of RSI are varied because of the nature of the condition. The following types of actions have been identified to likely induce RSI:


  • Overuse of a specific muscle or muscles group
  • Maintaining the same posture for long periods of time
  • Poor posture / poorly designed workspace
  • Working in cold environments
  • Vibrating equipment
  • Forceful activities / carrying heavy loads
  • Psychological stress
  • Fatigue


RSI Treatment


Just as the causes for RSI are varied, so are the intervention methods in treating the underlying conditions.  These are the most commonly used treatment options:


  • Medication – Anti-inflammatory painkillers, muscle relaxants, and antidepressants are some of the medications used. They may be over-the-counter or prescription types, depending on the severity of the condition.
  • Heat or cold – Application of heat packs or ice packs to relieve pain and inflammation
  • Physiotherapy – Includes physical exercises
  • Chiropractic care – Diagnoses and applies non-medication, non-surgical method to treat RSI based on underlying causes associated with the musculoskeletal system
  • Steroid injections – Applied only when there is inflammation with the particular medical condition
  • Surgery – Usually applied as a last recourse to correct problems with tendons and nerves


The key to preventing the progression and deterioration of RSI’s is to put a stop to whatever it is that is causing them. When your work is the factor that influences the occurrence of RSI, observing the following will help:


  • Take breaks from the repetitive tasks you are doing.
  • Stand up, stretch and do simple exercises for your back, arms, fingers and legs.
  • Rest your eyes.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy diet, exercise, and avoid stress.


Be aware of the factors in your daily activities that may induce the conditions for repetitive stress injury. Guard against these factors or you may be gradually consumed by these activities and end up having RSI.