Dr Luisa Dillner's guide to ... Repetitive strain injury

What is it?

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is an umbrella term to cover some known and unknown causes of pain in the forearm. It can also occur with back and shoulder pain.

What are the known causes?

Gary Macfarlane, professor of epidemiology at the University of Manchester, warned in a research paper that RSI was a misleading term because forearm pain was caused by many different things and was more common where employees were unhappy at work and felt unsupported.

Some RSI is found to have a diagnosable cause, such as carpal tunnel syndrome (where the median nerve is compressed at the wrist), or inflammation of tendons. In these cases the pain is usually confined to a specific area.

But there is often no obvious explanation, although it is thought that repetitive movements of the arms and wrist, for example using a keyboard, playing a musical instrument or working on a production line may be to blame. Feeling stressed (due to overwork, tight deadlines, monotonous work) has also been shown to be a risk factor.

What are the symptoms?

These include: pain, or a dull ache in the forearm, wrist or hands; numbness or tingling; and some people complain of clumsiness. Initially it comes on during or after repetitive activity and stops afterwards. But it can become continuous and more painful.

How can I prevent it?

Whatever the cause of the pain, some common sense precautions can help.

• If you use a keyboard, you should stop for a couple of minutes after every 10 to 15 minutes of typing.

• Set up your PC so that your elbows are 90 degrees to your keyboard.

• Keep your room and hands warm when you work.

• Use an adjustable chair.

• Don't bend your wrists when you type.

• Move your arms freely.

• Don't rest your wrist on the wrist rest.

There isn't much evidence for these techniques, however, because the causes of RSI are likely to be multiple and vary from case to case (and RSI can have a psychological component).

When should I see my doctor?

If the RSI persists or if you feel tingling and numbness.

Useful links

RSI Awareness

Harvard RSI Action

RSI Action

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.