This factsheet is for people with repetitive strain injury (RSI), also known as upper limb disorders (ULDs), or who would like information about it.
RSI is a general term that refers to chronic pain in any part of your upper body caused by overuse. Chronic pain lasts a long time, sometimes for the rest of the affected person's life. When describing a condition, the term chronic refers to how long the person has it, not to how serious it is. RSI commonly affects the arms, elbows, wrists, hands, fingers, neck, shoulders or upper back.
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Published by Bupa's health information team, October 2009.
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) describes a painful condition generally associated with doing a particular activity repeatedly or for long periods of time. It often occurs as a result of working with computers and typing or repetitive manual work, but you can also develop it if you don't regularly carry out these sorts of tasks.
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)
Type 2 RSI means either that your symptoms don't fit into type 1 RSI and you don’t have any inflammation or swelling, or the pain doesn't stay in one area. This is also known as non-specific or diffuse pain. Doctors are less clear how to treat type 2 RSI and there is little scientific evidence about which treatments are effective.
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.
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
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. Speak to your employer about this - see Prevention of RSI for more information.
Some people find that their pain is linked to stress, often work-related.