RSI is a common injury we see at Collins Place Physio, particularly among office workers. RSI often involves the thumb, wrist, elbow and forearm, and is usually due to poor posture, poor workstation setup, and increased hours of working at the desk. In other words, repetitive movements in a non-ergonomic environment.
RSI refers to Repetitive Strain Injury – pain or injury from the overuse of muscles and tendons caused by repetitive tasks and movements, usually over a cumulative period of time. RSI can often be associated with performing these tasks in non-ergonomic environments.
Those with jobs that require a high intensity of repetitive movements are most at risk of developing RSI. Particularly people with sedentary desk jobs. The increased reliance on mobile phones, laptops and more desk-bound jobs has led to increased prevalence of RSI in the thumb, wrist, and forearm.
However, RSI is not just limited to office workers and social media addicts. Many people who work in environments that require repetitive movements are susceptible to RSI. For example, those working retail jobs who perform repetitive movements such as scanning items at the checkout, packing bags and stocking shelves. In the kitchen, stirring, chopping, and lifting can be to blame. It’s not just inside jobs, either. Gardeners are susceptible due to the constant digging, lifting and using secateurs. Builders are also at risk, as are electricians and plumbers. RSI does not discriminate.
It is a difficult injury to recover from because most of the time, the activities that cause RSI are simple day to day activities that can't completely be removed from the person's life.
Many people leave it too late before getting help because they think that the pain will go away. What they don't realise is, unless you address the cause of the pain, ie. removing / modifying aggravating activities, having adequate rest, and strengthening the appropriate muscles, it is not an injury that will recover on its own.
Not addressing the issue early on can lead to a tear of the tendon which can cause ongoing issues with recovery and function.
In the short term, physiotherapy and rest is required. Anti-inflammatories may be helpful.
A long-term treatment/cure will involve physiotherapy, strengthening and activity modification. You’ll likely need to learn to improve/adjust your technique, improve posture, and/or improve the ergonomics of your work environment.
An ergonomic set up is essential so make sure you have an assessment done in your workplace. It is also important to rest when fatigued or experiencing pain, and take regular breaks from repetitive movement. Keep an eye out for early 'warning signs', such as intermittent pain, swelling, pain with usage of muscles, heat, aching, fatigue, and stiffness.
If in doubt, see a good physio, who will be able to give you exercises to minimise your risk of RSI.
Some useful exercises for prevention include:
Stand up straight with your arms at your sides, your wrists straight and your fingers pointing at the floor. Pull your shoulders back and look straight ahead so that you are standing with correct posture.
Bend your wrists backward so that your fingers point behind you and are parallel to the floor. Do not move your arms. Bend your wrists forward until your fingers point in front of you. Hold for 30 seconds.
Hold your arms straight in front of you. Bend your right wrist upward so your fingers point forward. Place your left palm against your right palm, and push up against the right hand to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Rotate wrist in circles both ways and open your hands and close into fists throughout the day.