Injury Doctors NYC

What is a Repetitive Strain Injury and How Can You Prevent it


At Injury Doctors NYC we know that people suffer from an overuse or repetitive strain injury pretty often. Tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, shoulder impingement and runner’s knee are conditions affecting different parts of the body but with one thing in common: they can all be considered Repetitive Strain Injuries. Often tricky to manage, it’s not uncommon for these injuries to take a long time to get better.

There is a common misconception that office workers are safe within their working environment as they are not exposed to heavy machinery. But there are hidden dangers that can impact a person’s health over time and can cause some great discomfort resulting in lengthy treatment and time off work. Repetitive Strain Injury affects many people, many of whom could have prevented the injuries  with proper equipment and training on the subject.

Symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

Repetitive strain injury can cause a wide form of symptoms that largely center around pain and tenderness in your muscles and joints. You will more likely notice this pain and tenderness during the day while performing the activities that caused it.

The joints can also become inflamed due to repetitive movement causing stiffness that may persist for several months after an injury has occurred.

Repetitive strain injuries mostly affect your:

  • Wrists and hands
  • Forearms and elbows
  • Neck and shoulders

Other areas can be affected but are less common.

Symptoms may occur gradually over time and become more intense and constant the longer you go without treatment and/or continue to perform the same movement that caused the pain in the first place.

Some people will experience symptoms that are not very noticeable at first or may only have one symptom, such as stiffness when they spend time at their desk typing on their keyboard for many hours per day.

RSI symptoms include;

  • Pain, ranging from mild to severe
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Throbbing
  • Tenderness
  • Sensitivity to cold or heat
  • Weakness
  • Cramp

How is Repetitive Strain Injury Treated?

It is important that you have a diagnosis of repetitive strain injury before treatment starts. What may feel like a repetitive strain injury could in fact be an underlying condition unrelated to your repetitive tasks.

Doctors will usually ask about the type of repetitive task, length of time performing repetitive actions and what activity preceded the pain. Depending on whether they think your injury is work-related or not, they might refer you to an occupational health doctor or suggest exercises for treatment. They will also ask how severe the pain/tenderness feels during repetitive tasks.

Treatment for RSI usually includes assessing the history of any activities that may have caused symptoms as well as treating any tenderness from repetitive movements, such as typing.

Initial treatment of RSI can include:

  • RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation
  • Exercise as part of a tailored physical therapy treatment plan
  • Stress reduction and relaxation training
  • Medication – including paracetamol and short-term use of anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen
  • Cold packs
  • Elastic supports or a splint
  • Steroid injections (reduces inflammation and is only recommended if RSI is caused by a specific condition such as carpal tunnel syndrome)

In some cases, physiotherapy can be offered in an effort to improve posture and teach people how to strengthen and relax their muscles.

How To Prevent Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

Risk assessments should be carried out prior to joining a company to make sure your area of work is suitable and comfortable for you. You can and should request a risk assessment if you haven’t had one.

It is also important to take regular breaks throughout the day, and not just during your allotted lunchtime.

  • Be mindful and aware of your repetitive movements.
  • Move your body throughout the day and throughout the week, even if it’s just for a short time.
  • Rest often so that you don’t stress your muscles too much overtime
  • Learn to mix up repetitive tasks in order to reduce overuse of a particular movement
  • Switch hands or switch tasks every 20 to 30 minutes
  • Stretch repetitively stressed areas often and apply cool packs to potential problem areas
  • Be mindful about how to promote ergonomics within the workplace

For office workers, ensuring you have a correctly set up workstation can go a long way to preventing the development of a repetitive strain injury. At Injury Doctors NYC our specialists are here to help.