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Repetitive strain injury (RSI)

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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Repetitive strain injury (also known short as RSI) is very common and is when repetitive movement causes pain due to overuse or strain of muscles, ligaments, or tendons. The symptoms can range from pain and aching to numbness or tingling, and they tend to start and are made worse by doing repetitive movements.

It can occur in the areas around different joints or muscles in the body, with the most common areas being the hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, and neck. Repetitive movements, stress, vibrating work tools, and cold weather can also increase your risk of developing RSI. Common reasons for developing RSI are doing repetitive tasks at work, gaming or using a mouse, playing sports, using a wheelchair, and being a musician. However, not everyone in these categories develops RSI.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

If you’re getting pain from the area that has been over-used, you’ll need to rest up and avoid any activity that causes further pain. It needs time to recover. You can take over-the-counter pain relief like acetaminophen or anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen.

If it’s not an option to avoid the activity, you could try a splint or brace– it helps to reduce the load on the area and give it time to heal.

Your local pharmacy can recommend a splint. If the pain continues, you can see your doctor or a physiotherapist. Strengthening exercises around the area may help. You could also look into an improved desk set-up, such as an ergonomic keyboard, an upright mouse, or a different games console.

When should I see my doctor?

You should book a routine doctor’s appointment if the pain is not improving with pain relief and rest, if it is affecting your ability to work, or if you’re getting weakness or numbness.

What will my doctor do?

The doctor will ask you about your symptoms, medical history, relevant family medical history, and medications you are currently taking. They will examine the area that is hurting and check the joints around it. There are no specific tests to diagnose RSI, but your doctor can diagnose it after listening to your symptoms and assessing and ruling out any other causes. To do this, you may have blood tests taken or be sent for scans such as an ultrasound or X-ray.

When to take things further

It may be worth enquiring if your employer has access to an occupational health service to help you recover from RSI if they consider this a work-related injury.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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