RSI Conditions and Prevention

What people with RSI need from employers

Strain injuries at work: prevention and management

Guide for young people: how to avoid RSI

Book Reviews


Repetitive Strain Injury, what is it?

The term RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is generally agreed as an umbrella term for a number of upper limb disorders. However whilst many medical professionals will have their own preferred term for these conditions and disorders, the term RSI is recognised by most people.There are two significant groups of RSI conditions, often known as Type 1 RSI and Type 2 RSI. Type 1 RSI conditions have good pathology (i.e. measurable evidence in the form of swelling, deformation, dysfunction etc). Type 2 RSI conditions do not have clear pathology and consequently some medical professionals do not accept that these conditions exist.

It is generally accepted that there are about 20 different Type 1 RSI conditions, which include carpal tunnel syndrome, and tenosynovitis. For these conditions diagnosis and treatment is generally well understood.

It is more difficult to obtain a diagnosis and treatment for Type 2 RSI conditions. With the lack of good pathology for these conditions, diagnosis relies on eliminating potential conditions where the detailed symptoms and circumstances do not match. This process is difficult without specialising in these conditions.

Since the Type 1 RSI conditions can be diagnosed more readily, a more specific term is usually used to describe the condition. The overall terms of RSI, or Work Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULD) are therefore often used for the Type 2 RSI conditions. Other terms used to define Type 2 RSI conditions include ‘diffuse RSI’, ‘cumulative trauma disorder’, ‘occupational overuse syndrome’, ‘non-specific pain syndrome’, ‘non-specific arm pain’ and ‘myofasic pain syndrome’.

Unfortunately diagnosis and treatment of Type 2 RSI conditions is not always well understood either within the medical profession, or within the working environment.

Type 2 RSI conditions can be the result of intensive computer operation, particularly if care is not taken with posture and positioning of equipment. In particular many sufferers of this condition consider that intensive use of the mouse has been a major cause of their RSI condition. The initial early signs and symptoms of aches in the fingers, hand or arm at the end of a long day are often not recognised. It will often not be recognised until acute and possibly debilitating pain is experienced.

There is no easy cure for Type 2 RSI conditions, although preventative measures have been known for some time and are included within health and safety legislation.

Treatment of Type 2 RSI conditions will often require a number of complimentary approaches. Often lifestyle changes will be helpful. Treatment can include some of the following: removal of causative activities; physiotherapy; trigger point therapy; acupuncture; medication (low doses to relax muscles); neural stretching exercises; improvements to diet; careful exercise (swimming is often found useful); postural improvements (e.g. Pilates, Yoga, Alexander Technique).

Recovery from Type 2 RSI conditions may be achieved. The earlier the condition is recognised and effective action taken, has a significant impact on recovery time. Recovery in some cases can be achieved in a few months, but it is often measured in several years. Recovery can also occur in stages, allowing a gradual return to normal activity. However full recovery is not always possible.

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