A repetitive strain injury (RSI) can heal within a few weeks to six months depending on the severity of the injury and available medical treatment.
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) may heal within a few weeks to six months (depending on the severity) by following the necessary precautions and available medical treatment. In some patients, the RSI symptoms may develop into a long-term, chronic condition.
RSI is a broad term for the pain felt in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and soft tissues of the body, such as the wrists, forearms, shoulders, back, or neck, due to repetitive movements and overuse.
RSI also has other names that include:
- Repetitive motion injuries
- Repetitive motion disorder
- Cumulative trauma disorder
- Occupational overuse syndrome
- Overuse syndrome
- Regional musculoskeletal disorder
Treatment for RSI includes identifying and decreasing the activity or motion that produces discomfort and symptoms. Some therapy options include:
- Using elastic support or splint to relieve pressure on the affected muscles and nerves
- Applying heat or ice to the affected area
- Making changes in the work environment to improve body posture while working
- Medications, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, muscle relaxants, and antidepressants, may help
- Corticosteroid injections are only given to reduce severe inflammation
- Physical therapy is advised to prevent worsening of the injury, improve posture, strengthen muscles and relieve pain
- Surgery is the last option to repair problems in tendons and nerves to prevent permanent damage
What are the causes of repetitive strain injury (RSI)?
A repetitive strain injury (RSI) is classified into two types:
- Type I: This is a musculoskeletal disorder characterized by swelling and inflammation of muscles or tendons.
- Type II: This is related to nerve damage from several causes, but the main cause is due to work activity.
The most common causes of RSI nowadays are manual labor, office work, and the use of modern technological devices. Other causes of RSI include:
- Poor posture or holding the same posture for longer hours
- Forceful activities that are done in awkward or uncomfortable positions
- Repeated activity or action where there is direct pressure to particular areas
- Twisting or overexertion of a single muscle or a group of muscles
- Muscle fatigue
What are the symptoms of repetitive strain injury (RSI)?
The symptoms of repetitive strain injury (RSI) are determined by the severity of the strain and the part of the body affected. Symptoms of RSI may include:
- Pain and tenderness in the affected area
- Stiffness and loss of motion or flexibility
- Throbbing or pulsating in the affected area
- Tingling sensation especially in the hand or arm
- Loss of sensation
- Loss of strength
What are the examples of repetitive strain injury (RSI)?
Here are a few conditions that are associated with repetitive strain injury (RSI). However, these conditions could be caused by other factors.
- Bursitis (inflammation of fluid-filled sacs around the joints)
- Tendonitis (inflammation of tendons)
- Tendinosis (degeneration of tendons)
- Carpal tunnel syndrome (numbness caused by pressure on the nerve)
- Raynaud’s disease (small arteries that supply the skin constrict when cold and reduces blood supply to the affected area)
- Rotator cuff syndrome (damage to tendons that hold the shoulder joint)
- Medial epicondylitis or golfer’s elbow (affected inside of the lower arm)
- Lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow (affected outer part of the elbow)
- Stenosing tenosynovitis or trigger finger (caused by strong gripping of the finger, which may be stuck in a bent position)
- Radial tunnel syndrome (overuse of the hand irritates the nerve and cause pain)
- Writer’s cramp (spasm of muscles in hands due to overuse)
How to prevent repetitive strain injury (RSI)
Taking preventive measures can help lower the risk factors of repetitive strain injury (RSI). If the cause of RSI is work-related, then it gets difficult to prevent it from developing or worsening. The only way to reduce the risk of RSI is by reducing the intensity of the activity.
The other ways to decrease the risk of RSI include:
- Take frequent short breaks from repetitive work
- Set up workspaces that allow proper body posture
- Stretch the body before any activity, which may create tension
- Stand up, stretch the body and extend the back, arms, and fingers after working for longer hours
- Proper warmup and cooldown exercises are to be done before and after physical activity
- Avoid activities that trigger discomfort or flare-up
- Use splints or bands to reduce strain during physical activities
A doctor can diagnose an RSI through physical examination, analyzing medical history, understanding the type of repetitive movements the patient performs daily and causes of discomfort. Diagnosis can be made with imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging, which provides a clear picture of any rips, ruptures, inflammation, or other abnormalities.
RSI may become much more uncomfortable and lead to decreased mobility, weakness, or disability of the affected area if left untreated.
Medically Reviewed on 10/1/2021
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Overuse Injuries. https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/patients-families/health-library/healthdocnew/repetitive-stress-injuries
MaineHealth. RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). https://www.mainehealth.org/Services/Orthopedics-Sports-Medicine/Repetitive-Strain-Injury