Repetitive Strain Injuries are on the rise as we spend more and more time in front of our computers, smartphones and tablets. Recessionary times are forcing people to work harder and longer with less opportunity for varying workload. However, by understanding the causes of repetitive strain injuries you can do a lot to alleviate and even prevent the problem.
What are Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI)?
RSI is an umbrella term that includes many different types of overuse/ overload injury and depending on the activities you perform it can affect tendon, muscle and nerve structures in any region of the body. The most commonly recognised repetitive strain injuries are at the elbow, wrist and hand and include tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome and iPhone hand.
Early Signs and Common Symptoms of an RSI
The first signs of RSI may be soreness, tingling or discomfort in the neck, arms, wrists, fingers or shoulders. These symptoms may appear when you do something or after a repetitive task.
Symptoms of RSI or an overuse injury can be any of the following:
* Burning, aching or shooting pain.
* Tremors, clumsiness and numbness.
* Fatigue or lack of strength.
* Weakness in the hands or forearms. It is often difficult to perform even simple tasks.
* Difficulty with normal activities like opening doors, chopping vegetables, turning on a tap.
* Chronically cold hands, particularly the fingertips.
Symptoms may disappear when you stop the aggravating activity. It may take only a few hours for the symptoms to settle, or it may take as long as a couple of days. Unfortunately, over time a minor RSI can turn into a nasty chronic injury.
How is an RSI Diagnosed?
It can be difficult to diagnose RSI and there isn’t a specific test for it. To help diagnose your condition, your physio will ask about your symptoms and examine you. They may also ask about your medical history. Be sure to tell your physiotherapist if you have noticed any particular activities that you think are linked to your symptoms.
We may be able to diagnose a recognised condition such as tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon) and carpal tunnel syndrome. These fall under the type 1 category of RSI. You may have some tests that can help identify these specifically. If you have more general (type 2) RSI symptoms, diagnosis is more difficult. Your GP may refer you for other tests to rule out other conditions. But if a recognised condition can’t be confirmed, you may be diagnosed with type 2 RSI.
Treatment of an RSI
There’s no single treatment for RSI. However, there are often specific treatments for RSI type 1 conditions. If you’re diagnosed with a particular condition, follow the recommended treatment. This may involve self-help treatments, physiotherapy, steroid injections into the affected joint, or possibly surgery. Doctors are less clear about how to treat type 2 RSI and it’s not known which treatments will definitely work.
– Self-help – It’s not always practical but if you can, try to reduce the activities or tasks that you know are causing your symptoms. Take regular breaks and try to keep your body mobile and moving to stop your muscles from weakening. Other methods such as applying either hot or cold packs to the affected area may also help to ease symptoms.
– Changes at work – If you feel your symptoms are related to work, speak to your manager or supervisor. Your employer may be able to refer you to an occupational health advisor for help and advice. Look at your working environment and how you work to try and find out what activity is causing the problem. If you can’t stop doing the activity completely, take regular, short breaks to stretch and move your arms and hands.
– Physiotherapy – A physiotherapist will show you what to do in order to both rest the affected area and also maintain or improve strength in the affected muscles. It will give you the chance to see that you can keep the affected area moving and active without causing further damage. They will also show you exercises that you can carry on doing at home and at work.
– Medicines – Over-the-counter medicines like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may help reduce inflammation. Painkillers like paracetamol may also be helpful. If your GP prescribes or recommends these to you, take them as he or she advises. However, if you’re taking them without advice, it’s important to be careful. Painkillers will mask the pain and allow you to carry on doing the harmful activity, which may ultimately make your condition worse.