What Is Repetitive Strain Injury

Repetitive strain injury  is a term describing patients in whom there is no discrete, objective, pathophysiology that corresponds with the pain complaints which can be related to repaeted activities over a period of time.

Other names for this problem

  • Repetitive strain injury
  • Repetitive stress injury
  • Repetitive motion injuries
  • Repetitive motion disorder
  • Cumulative trauma disorder
  • Occupational overuse syndrome
  • Overuse syndrome
  • Regional musculoskeletal disorder

It is an injury involving  musculoskeletal and nervous systems and is thought to be by  may be caused by repetitive tasks which include

  • Forceful exertions
  • Vibrations
  • Mechanical compression
  • Sustained or awkward positions.

Repetitive strain injury tends to be associated with both physical and psychosocial stressors.

Typical habits that may  lead to RSI

  • Reading books while looking down
  • Carrying heavy school/laptop bags
  • Use of phone/mobile leaning onto one side
  • Watching TV in incorrect position e.g. Too much to the left/right. Sleeping while watching TV
  • Sleeping with head forward, while travelling

Clinical Presentation

  • Pain in the arm, back, shoulders, wrists, hands, or thumbs that worsens with activity
  • The pain is worse with activity.
  • Weakness, lack of endurance.

The symptoms tend to be diffuse and non-anatomical and uncharacteristic of any discrete pathological conditions.

The physical examination discloses only tenderness and diminished performance on effort-based tests such as grip and pinch strength.

Diagnostic tests like radiographs and electrophysiological studies are normal.


Most repetitive strain injuries resolve with enough rest, medications and then exercises.  RSIs are however notorious to persist for years if not cared for.

Braces and massage are also used as part of the treatment.

Ergonomic adjustments of the workstation are often recommended.

RSI and Psychosocial Factors

Psychological and social factors affect repetitive strain injury complaints.

Psychological stresses in large amounts have been associated with doubled risk of the reported pain. Similarly job demands, poor support from colleagues, and work dissatisfaction have also been to shown an increase in pain.

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