Repetitive Strain Injuries – The Risks, Symptoms and How You Can Reduce Your Risk

Niamh Pentony

Niamh Pentony

MSc. Applied Ergonomics

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Awareness Day falls on February 29th…the only non-repetitive day of the year! 

So what are repetitive strain injuries? The term repetitive strain injury, or RSI,  is an umbrella term that refers to disorders that cause discomfort and pain in the muscles, tendons, joints or nerves. 

They are caused by repetitive movements or overuse and can impact workers across all sectors. Common movements such as bending, twisting, gripping, holding, lifting, pushing, pulling, typing, clenching and reaching may not cause an issue during day to day tasks and are not harmful movements in themselves. However, the issue arises when these movements are repeated, frequently or for prolonged periods. Add in common workplace risks such as prolonged static postures, awkward postures, stress, high workload and high levels of force and you have the recipe for discomfort and injury.

Repetitive Strain Injuries are not always caused by work tasks. I myself developed one when learning to crochet (badly!). RSIs associated with mobile devices are also becoming more common. 



The most common areas associated with RSIs are the wrists and elbows, but they can also occur in the lower limbs, back, neck and shoulders and increasingly in the thumbs. 

It has been reported that half of people that work with computers report symptoms of an RSI in their neck, shoulder, wrist or hand, with the wrist being the most commonly reported affected area.

Examples of common repetitive strain injuries include:

  • Rotator Cuff Strain
  • Bicep Tendonitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
  • De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Golfer’s Elbow
  • Back and Neck Pain
  • Spinal Disc Bulge
  • Headaches

The Impact of Repetitive Stress on the Tissues

Muscles & Tendons:

When muscles and tendons are worked, tiny micro tears can form in the tissues. Inflammation occurs in the area as the body works to repair the tissues.

An easy example of this to understand is the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) we experience in the days after a new or progressed exercise. This is essential for muscle development.
However, if this is repeated without appropriate recovery periods, the inflammation worsens, scar tissue develops and pain worsens.



As the nerves can run through and alongside your muscles and tendons, if these tissues get damaged, it will impact the health of the nerves.

Neurological symptoms in RSIs are usually caused by compression, restriction or trapping of a nerve(s) due to the tightness or inflammation of the tissues and lack of available space around the nerve. As these tissues and nerves are used repeatedly without adequate recovery, the nerves themselves can become inflamed.

Importantly, the site of the pain may not be the site of the issue as compression of a nerve in your neck can manifest in the arms and hands and compression of nerve in your back can manifest in the legs and feet.

What are the Signs & Symptoms of an RSI?

Generally, RSIs start as a mild discomfort, a niggle that you feel when only completing certain tasks. Over time, if the cause of the discomfort is not addressed, this can progress to chronic pain that can negatively impact your ability to carry out day to day tasks and may require medical or surgical intervention to reduce symptoms.

Common Symptoms of RSIs

  • Pain, ranging from mild discomfort to debilitating
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Throbbing
  • Weakness
  • Sensitivity to heat or cold
  • Discoloration of hands and fingers



How are RSIs Treated?

It is important to implement changes as soon as you notice discomfort when completing tasks. Early recognition of an issue and identification of the potential causes are key to reducing the impact of an RSI on your wellbeing. When symptoms begin, reduce exposure to aggravating tasks and seek professional advice. If applicable, notify your employer so they can act to reduce workplace aggravators. 

The treatment of RSIs varies based on duration, severity and impact on ability to perform tasks. Treatment can include:

  • Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation
  • Exercises
  • Oral or topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
  • Steroid injections
  • Exercises
  • Stress reduction & relaxation training
  • Strapping & use of a splint
  • Surgical intervention


How Can RSIs Be Prevented In The Workplace?

A proactive approach to ergonomics and early recognition and reporting of discomfort is key.



Risk assessments of tasks to ensure tasks that present a risk of RSI are identified, assessed and the risk reduced or eliminated.

Ergonomic assessments of workstations or tasks can reduce exposure to the risks for all employees and severity of symptoms for those experiencing discomfort.

Ensure adequate training of operators to allow for task rotation in the work areas.

Employees should be encouraged to take regular breaks from static tasks, repetitive tasks and manual handling tasks

Employees should be encouraged to maintain neutral and supported postures when completing regular or prolonged tasks

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse on this website, you accept the use of cookies for the above purposes. View our cookies policy here