Ten + Tips for Managing RSI

RSI or repetitive strain injury, was a term coined by an Australian in the 1980's, but the conditions associated with it have been around for hundreds of years. RSI is common and caused by repetitive movement such as typing or scrolling for hours on end.

We share tips from a Pilates instructor and sufferer of RSI that will help you to reduce the symptoms and relieve the pain.

What is RSI?

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is defined as a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) and caused by prolonged repetitive, forceful, or awkward hand movements. It results in damage to muscles, tendons, and nerves of the neck, shoulder, forearm, and hand, which can cause pain, weakness, numbness, or impairment of motor control.

Activities such as typing and clicking a mouse button 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.

Because they aren't given time to rest results in pain as tendons become inflamed and begin to pinch nerves. The result is aching, 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 is not the same as:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • De Quervain's disease

  • Tendinitis

  • Epicondylitis

  • Cubital tunnel syndrome

The above conditions are all specific conditions that may masquerade like RSI. RSI does not always show inflammation or register on a nerve conduction test and is therefore unlikely to be treatable with anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections.

As someone who has been living with this condition since 2009, i share my best tips for coping with RSI.

What does help RSI?

  • Rest yes, yes, yes this is absolutely crucial! It is so important to rest, do not persist with pain during work it will take longer to recover.

  • Myofascial release this is one of the best techniques I found to release aching muscles. Look for a good practitioner in your area.

  • Massage is good any tension that is released will make you feel better.

  • Ice and heat, apply one and then the other and finish on ice this will allow the blood to flow to the affected area.

  • Wrist splints, if you’re in the acute stage of RSI then a wrist splint will help you rest, when the condition is more chronic resting from work full stop is more important.

  • Mindfulness is soothing be kind to yourself and not beat yourself up about not being well. It’s always good to be mentally strong with RSI and not to get downbeat.

  • Nutrition and diet’s always important for anyone’s health. Although there’s not one diet that is going to change RSI, just choose a healthy balanced diet and drink plenty of water to hydrate your muscles.

  • Exercise, Pilates worked for me it helped me to maintain a healthy core whilst not overusing my forearms or wrists as most of their exercises can be tailored to work for you. It’s always daunting to start exercise with an injury so I recommend starting a few one-to-one sessions and not jumping into a class this will only cause further injury.

  • Capsicum cream, applying a small amount of chilli cream to any burning can help mask the pain you’re feeling.

  • Family and friends, a strong network of relationships who you can turn to when you need them. Going through RSI can be a struggle both financially, physically and mentally it’s always good to have support when you need it.

  • Ergonomic tools for your desk, ergonomic tools are a must. Speak to your HR department and request some improvements to your workplace setup for example ergonomic mouse and keyboard. A desk assessment for computer screen and chairs at the right height.

  • Regular breaks, it’s so important to take rest breaks, you can set alarms on laptops or PCs to come on every 20 minutes if necessary and take 5 to 10 minute break from typing.

If experience has taught me anything perseverance of pain during work will only require longer time to recover. If you leave it too late you may never fully recover, RSI is a serious condition and should be treated as such.