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What You Don’t Know About Repetitive Stress Injuries

May 21, 2018
It only makes sense — if something you’re doing hurts, you should stop doing it. But there are some actions — even if they hurt — that you can’t really avoid, like typing on a keyboard at an office job or picking up an infant if you’re a new mom. If you’re feeling aches and pains when you do something over and over, you may have a repetitive stress injury (RSI). Here’s how to identify and manage these types of injuries, so you can keep living and working safely and comfortably.

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Your doctor says you have a muscular condition called repetitive strain injury (RSI) — also known as repetitive stress injury or repetitive motion disorder. They’re all usually caused by repeat activities performed without enough breaks, with poor posture, or by working in an unnatural or awkward position. Think about "overuse.'
Examples can include tendinitis from raking or shoveling, carpal tunnel syndrome from knitting or typing, or tennis elbow from painting or using a computer mouse.
Where Does It Hurt?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), repetitive strain injuries (RSI) usually affect areas of the body that often make repeated and continual motions, including:
  • Hand
  • Wrist
  • Shoulder
  • Elbow
  • Neck
  • Back
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Foot
  • Leg
  • Ankle
What Are the Symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?
Repetitive stress injuries may commonly occur in muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Early research in this area confirms that such injuries trigger an inflammatory response, or inflammation, and then can cause damage to the soft tissues.  Symptoms may include:   
  • Sharp pain
  • Aching
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Redness
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Treatments
A repetitive strain injury often starts out as a minor annoyance or niggling distraction, but you shouldn’t ignore it. If it gets worse, treatments might become invasive (like surgery) or require a significant time commitment (like having multiple medical appointments with a specialist).
To help prevent your injury from becoming permanent or possibly causing any loss of function of the affected area, talk to your doctor and make sure to share details about when and where the pain occurs. Here are some other things you can do:
  • Take frequent breaks and stretch.
  • Use a brace or splint to reduce pressure on your muscles and nerves.
  • Adjust your workstation setup so you sit naturally at your chair and desk.
  • Ask about making your workspace more ergonomic —with a special, ergonomic keyboard, or getting a footstool to lessen stress on feet and ankles and relieve pressure on the lower back.
  • Apply ice or heat to the affected area.
  • When sitting, sit upright, not too far forward or backward.
  • Ask your doctor if yoga, Pilates, medical massage therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy may help.
  • Perform the uncomfortable activity differently, maybe using a voice-to-text program instead of typing.
  • Avoid the activity that caused it altogether for a while.
A few of the treatments your doctor may recommend include:
  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Under certain circumstances, surgery to repair severe damage