You may have heard the words Repetitive strain injury or RSI, but what is it really? And how can you learn to cope with this type of health disorder?

RSI is a general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse. It is also known as work-related upper limb disorder (WRULD), or non-specific upper limb pain.

It commonly affects:

  • Forearms;
  • Elbows;
  • Wrists, thumbs, fingers or the hand;
  • Neck and shoulders.

What are the causes?

There are several factors that increase the possibility of developing RSI.  These include:

  • Repetitive activities;
  • Using equipment that vibrates e.g. hedge trimmer, power tools;
  • Cold temperatures;
  • High intensity activity for long periods, without adequate rest;
  • Poor posture;
  • Lack of general fitness and poor conditioning;
  • Certain jobs including keyboard workers, musicians, supermarket checkout workers;

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of RSI can vary, ranging from mild to severe, and usually develop gradually.

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain, aching or tenderness in the upper arms and forearms;
  • Stiffness in the neck and arms;
  • Throbbing;
  • Tingling or numbness, particularly in the forearms and hands;
  • Weakness;
  • Cramp.

RSI and Musicians

At the practice, we see a number of musicians with RSI. The intensive hours of practice, repetitive action and highly tuned motor skills can cause problems for all types of musicians and performers.

In fact, 50-60% of orchestral players suffer from RSI at some point in their careers, whilst 20% of music students give up on their future careers due the physical demands on the muscles, limbs and bodies.

What can I do to reduce the risk of RSI developing?

There are number of things that can be done to reduce the risk of RSI developing, these include:

  • Improving your general fitness, including overall strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness;
  • Having a good relaxed upright posture – sitting upright in a rigid position is counterproductive;
  • Take regular breaks from repetitive tasks;
  • Assess your position at your home/office computer;
  • Even if your working position is excellent, sitting for too long is unhelpful. Joints and muscles like a variety of movements.

If you think you are at risk of developing RSI, we have some recommended exercises that can be accessed by clicking here.

Note: While stretching muscles and joints may give some temporary relief of symptoms, strengthening exercises are most helpful in overcoming the problem.

I think I have RSI – what do I do now?

If you are worried that you might have RSI, you should see your GP or one of our Physiotherapists for assessment as soon as possible.

However, if you are already suffering from the condition you will need an assessment with a physiotherapist to determine the right exercises for you. No two people are the same, and exercise programmes need to be individually tailored, contact us today to discuss this further.