How can I treat repetitive strain injury?
- Stop or reduce the activities which seem to be causing the symptoms.
- Look into practical ways of adjusting your work set-up so as to reduce strain.
- Take an anti-inflammatory medicine (eg, ibuprofen) or paracetamol.
- Physiotherapists can give advice and provide treatments for the affected area
To date, studies have not found good evidence to support any of the available treatments for repetitive strain injury (RSI). There is no evidence that any treatment is positively harmful, so it is worth carrying on with conventional approaches until more information becomes available. It has always been advised, for example, that the earlier the problem is recognised and dealt with, the better the outcome. A doctor may advise various things such as:
- Stopping or reducing the tasks or activities which seem to be causing the symptoms. This may be easier said than done if your job or livelihood depends on the task. If possible, discuss the problem with your employer. A change of task, or changes to your work environment, may be possible.
- Looking into practical ways of adjusting your work set-up so as to reduce strain.
- Taking anti-inflammatory medicines, although recent studies suggest that simple painkillers such as paracetamol work just as well.
- Taking muscle relaxant tablets and a low dose of a tricyclic antidepressant.
- Seeing a physiotherapist who can give advice to help with posture and how to strengthen or relax the muscles involved. Physiotherapists can also offer other treatments such as:
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) which uses a mild electrical current to block pain signals.
- Ultrasound therapy.
- Infrared wave treatment.
- Trying relaxation techniques and regular general exercise (such as swimming), which some people find useful in easing the symptoms.
- Having an injection of steroid, sometimes combined with a local anaesthetic, into an area which has definite inflammation, such as a tenosynovitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms often ease with the above measures. It is then wise to review your work or other activities to prevent further bouts of RSI. For example:
- If you work with a computer: is your seat, keyboard, mouse, etc, positioned in the correct way with the least strain likely on your hands and fingers?
- Do you work with a good posture? Do you sit correctly if you have a desk job?
- If you do a repetitive task at work, do you get enough breaks?
- Is there anything your employer could do to improve your working environment?
- If you are under stress at work, is there anything you or your employer could do to improve this? If a lot of people at work have RSI, your employer may consider asking an occupational therapist for advice.
What is the outlook for repetitive strain injury?
Most people with repetitive strain injury (RSI) get better in three to six months. Prevention and treatment measures speed up recovery. However, some people develop symptoms that persist long-term, which can be debilitating. Sometimes a change of job is the only answer.
Further reading and references
Ageing and work-related musculoskeletal disorders. A review of the recent literature; Health and Safety Executive, 2010
Waersted M, Hanvold TN, Veiersted KB; Computer work and musculoskeletal disorders of the neck and upper extremity: a BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2010 Apr 2911:79.
Wan B, Shan G; Biomechanical modeling as a practical tool for predicting injury risk related to repetitive muscle lengthening during learning and training of human complex motor skills. Springerplus. 2016 Apr 125:441. doi: 10.1186/s40064-016-2067-y. eCollection 2016.
Verhagen AP, Bierma-Zeinstra SM, Burdorf A, et al; Conservative interventions for treating work-related complaints of the arm, neck or shoulder in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Dec 12(12):CD008742. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008742.pub2.
Bruls VE, Jansen NW, de Bie RA, et al; Towards a preventive strategy for complaints of arm, neck and/or shoulder (CANS): the role of help seeking behaviour. BMC Public Health. 2016 Nov 2816(1):1199.
Varatharajan S, Cote P, Shearer HM, et al; Are work disability prevention interventions effective for the management of neck pain or upper extremity disorders? A systematic review by the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury Management (OPTIMa) collaboration. J Occup Rehabil. 2014 Dec24(4):692-708. doi: 10.1007/s10926-014-9501-1.
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