This factsheet is for people with repetitive strain injury (RSI), also known as upper limb disorders (ULDs), or who would like information about it.
- About RSI
- Symptoms of RSI
- Causes of RSI
- Diagnosis of RSI
- Treatment of RSI
- Prevention of RSI
Pain is like an alarm signal, telling you there is damage done in your body, even if the pain comes on and off.
Your pain could be a result of the strain on the muscle and joints due to bad postural habits as you do your daily activities such as walking, sitting and standing. Over time, without you realising it, the continuous strain can cause a condition called Repetive Strain Injuries (RSI).
RSI creates body misalignment, strains the spine, stresses the joints, irritates the nerves and tightens the muscles. All these will lead to chronic pain.
Your pain could also be due to past injuries or accidents that did not heal properly, which cause scar tissue formations that restrict your movements, affecting your daily routine. If they are left alone, simple actions such as putting your clothes on can also cause you extreme pain.
The term RSI covers a number of musculoskeletal injuries that can affect your hands, arms and upper body. It can be split into type 1 and type 2. Type 1 RSI means that the disorder can be classed as a recognised medical condition, such as:
- tendonitis – inflammation of a tendon (the tissue that joins muscles to bones)
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- tennis elbow (epicondylitis)
- rotator cuff syndrome
- Dupuytren’s contracture
- writer’s cramp (cramp of the hand)
Our doctor will be able to recognise and diagnose type 1 RSI conditions. For example, tennis elbow is caused by repeatedly using your arm in a twisting movement. This can damage the tendons in your elbow making the outside of it painful.
There are different stages of RSI and if treated early enough, you may make a full recovery. It’s harder to treat if your symptoms have gone unchecked for a while. You may also be more likely to develop further injury as a result.
Symptoms of RSI
There are a wide range of symptoms including pain and tenderness in your muscles and joints. You will probably notice symptoms most when you’re doing the activity that caused them. The pain may get worse so that it’s there all the time, even when you’re resting. It may get so bad that you aren’t able to do routine work or household activities.
This is why it’s important that you see our doctor as soon as you notice any pain in a particular area that lasts for more than a couple of weeks.
Symptoms of RSI include:
- a sharp or a dull ache
You may have some swelling but it’s also possible that you won’t have any physical signs, even though your hand or arm feels painful.
If you’re in constant pain, you may find it difficult to sleep. If you’re feeling stressed because you’re worrying about the possible consequences of RSI, this can make sleep problems worse.
Causes of RSI
A number of factors put you at risk of developing RSI. These include:
- repetitive activities
- doing an activity that involves force, such as lifting or carrying heavy objects
- carrying out an activity for a long period of time without adequate rest periods
- poor posture or activities that require you to work in awkward or tiring positions
It’s important that your working environment (for example, your desk layout or assembly line set-up) is designed so you can work with your body upright and without having to twist or stretch. For example, working with your arm raised above your head or sitting in a fixed position for long periods of time may increase your risk.
There is a wide variety of jobs that may lead to RSI, such as data-entry or typing, working on an assembly line or doing supermarket check-out work. Therefore, it’s important for you to take steps to minimise risks.
Diagnosis of RSI
Our doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history. If you have type 1 RSI symptoms, your doctor will be able to identify definite conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, when you describe your symptoms and by examination.
With type 2 RSI symptoms diagnosis is more difficult. Your doctor may refer you for an X-ray to rule out any other conditions that could be causing pain, such as osteoarthritis. If a recognised condition can’t be confirmed, you may be diagnosed with type 2 RSI.
Treatment of RSI
There is no single treatment for RSI. However, there are often specific treatments for recognised conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. If you’re diagnosed with a particular condition, follow the recommended treatment. This may involve anti-inflammatory injections or possibly surgery.
You may be referred to a physiotherapist for exercises to build up strength in the affected muscles and for advice about ways to improve and strengthen your posture.
Although you should try to rest the affected area regularly, it’s not helpful for you to rest for long periods as it can weaken your muscles. Gently massaging and flexing the affected limb stimulates circulation and can prevent your muscles from weakening.
Painkillers, pain relief patches and muscle relaxants are so conveniently available; they would only provide short-term relief today, but what about tomorrow?
You might think there’s no help for you, but that’s where you are wrong. Unlike other forms of treatment, Singapore Orthopaedic Specialist Clinic stops your pain by focusing and finding out the root cause of your pain.
Prevention of RSI
Your employer needs to adjust your work area so it’s suitable and comfortable for you. The risk of an accident or injury occurring should be reduced as much as possible.
If you use a computer, make sure:
- your chair supports your back and you sit up straight
- your chair is the right height for you; if not use a footrest
- your monitor is around 60cm from your eyes
- your screen, keyboard and mouse are directly in front of you with the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible
- when you type, your arms aren’t extended forwards, your forearms are horizontal and your fingers are at the same height as the middle row of keys
- your legs have room to move under the desk or table
- you only use a wrist rest when having a break from typing – don’t place your wrists on it while typing
If you have been off work because of RSI, when you return try not to do the activity that causes the pain. You may need to modify your job when the pain is severe. Take regular breaks and alternate tasks to prevent long periods of repeating the same movement.