Repetitive strain injury

Repetitive strain injury
Synonyms Cumulative trauma disorders, repetitive stress injuries, repetitive motion injuries or disorders, occupational or sports overuse syndromes
Poor ergonomic techniques by computer users is one of many causes of repetitive strain injury
Specialty Sports medicine, orthopedics
Symptoms Sore wrists, aching, pulsing pain, tingling, extremity weakness
Complications Torn ligaments
Causes Repetitive actions, poor technique
Risk factors Sedentary lifestyle, smoking, alcohol consumption
Prevention Proper technique, regular rests, regular exercise
Deaths Unknown

A repetitive strain injury (RSI, also known as work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs), is an "injury to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that may be caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained or awkward positions".[1]

Signs and symptoms

Some examples of symptoms experienced by patients with RSI are aching, pulsing pain, tingling and extremity weakness, initially presenting with intermittent discomfort and then, with a higher degree of frequency.[2]


Repetitive strain injury (RSI) and associative trauma orders are umbrella terms used to refer to several discrete conditions that can be associated with repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained/awkward positions.[1][3] Extreme temperatures have also been reported as risk factor for RSI by different investigators.[4] Examples of conditions that may sometimes be attributed to such causes include edema, tendinosis (or less often tendinitis), carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, De Quervain syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, intersection syndrome, golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis), tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis), trigger finger (so-called stenosing tenosynovitis), radial tunnel syndrome, ulnar tunnel syndrome, and focal dystonia.[1][3][5]

A general worldwide increase since the 1970s in RSIs of the arms, hands, neck, and shoulder has been attributed to the widespread use in the workplace of keyboard entry devices, such as typewriters and computers, which require long periods of repetitive motions in a fixed posture.[6]

Risk factors

Occupational risk factors

Workers in certain fields are at risk of repetitive strains. Most occupational injuries are musculoskeletal disorders, and many of these are caused by cumulative trauma rather than a single event.[7] Miners and poultry workers, for example, must make repeated motions which can cause tendon, muscular, and skeletal injuries.[8][9] Jobs that involves repeated motion patterns or prolonged posture within a work cycle, or both, may be repetitive.

Psychosocial factors

Factors such as personality differences to work-place organization problems. Certain workers may negatively perceive their work organization due to excessive work rate, long work hours, limited job control, and low social support. Previous studies shown elevated urinary catecholamines (stress-related chemicals) in workers with RSI. Pain related to RSI may evolve into chronic pain syndrome particularly for workers who do not have supports from co-workers and supervisors.[10]

Non-occupational factors

Age and gender are important risk factors, the risk of RSI increases with age.[11] Women are more likely affected like men because of their smaller frame, lower muscle mass and strength, and due to endocrine influences. In addition, lifestyle choices such as smoking and alcohol consumption are recognizable risk factors for RSI.


RSIs are assessed using a number of objective clinical measures. These include effort-based tests such as grip and pinch strength, diagnostic tests such as Finkelstein's test for De Quervain's tendinitis, Phalen's Contortion, Tinel's Percussion for carpal tunnel syndrome, and nerve conduction velocity tests that show nerve compression in the wrist. Various imaging techniques can also be used to show nerve compression such as x-ray for the wrist, and MRI for the thoracic outlet and cervico-brachial areas.


There are no quick fixes for RSI, early diagnosis is critical to limiting damage.[12] RICE is used as the first treatment for many muscle strains, ligament sprains, or other bruises and injuries. R.I.C.E stands for: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. RICE is used immediately after an injury happens and for the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury. These modalities can help reduce the swelling and pain.[13] Medications that are most-often prescribed treatments for early-stage RSIs include analgesics, myofeedback, biofeedback, physical therapy, relaxation, and ultrasound therapy.[5] Low-grade RSIs can sometimes resolve themselves if treatments begin shortly after the onset of symptoms. However, some RSIs may require more aggressive intervention including surgery and can persist for years.

General exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of developing RSI.[14] Doctors sometimes recommend that RSI sufferers engage in specific strengthening exercises, for example to improve sitting posture, reduce excessive kyphosis, and potentially thoracic outlet syndrome.[15] Modifications of posture and arm use (human factors and ergonomics) are often recommended.[5][16]


Although seemingly a modern phenomenon, RSIs have long been documented in the medical literature. In 1700, the Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini first described RSI in more than 20 categories of industrial workers in Italy, including musicians and clerks.[17] Carpal tunnel syndrome was first identified by the British surgeon James Paget in 1854.[18]

Lee Jackson's 2006 work "A Dictionary of Victorian London", quotes a paragraph from the April 1875 issue of The Graphic describing "telegraphic paralysis".

The Swiss surgeon Fritz de Quervain first identified De Quervain’s tendinitis in Swiss factory workers in 1895.[19] The French neurologist Jules Tinel (1879–1952) developed his percussion test for compression of the median nerve in 1900.[20][21][22] The American surgeon George Phalen improved the understanding of the aetiology of carpal tunnel syndrome with his clinical experience of several hundred patients during the 1950s and 1960s.[23]


Specific sources of discomfort have been popularly referred to by terms such as Blackberry thumb, iPod finger, mouse arm disease, PlayStation thumb,[24] Rubik's wrist or "cuber's thumb",[25] stylus finger,[26] raver's wrist,[27] and Emacs pinky, among others.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services
  2. "Repetitive Strain Injury: What is it and how is it caused?" (PDF). Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  3. 1 2 van Tulder M, Malmivaara A, Koes B (May 2007). "Repetitive strain injury" (PDF). Lancet. 369 (9575): 1815–22. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)60820-4. PMID 17531890.
  4. "What do doctors mean by tenosynovitits and repetitive strain injury?". PMID 7718827.
  5. 1 2 3 Verhagen, Arianne P.; Bierma-Zeinstra, Sita M. A.; Burdorf, Alex; Stynes, Siobhán M.; de Vet, Henrica C. W.; Koes, Bart W. (2013). "Conservative interventions for treating work-related complaints of the arm, neck or shoulder in adults". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 12: CD008742. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008742.pub2. ISSN 1469-493X. PMID 24338903.
  6. "Welcome to the RSI Awareness Website". 17 November 2010. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  7. Cumulative Trauma Disorders in the Workplace. U.S. CDC-NIOSH Publication 95-119. 1995.
  8. Mining Publication: Risk Profile of Cumulative Trauma Disorders of the Arm and Hand in the U.S. Mining Industry U.S. CDC-NIOSH web site.
  9. "CDC - Poultry Industry Workers - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic". Retrieved 2016-07-15.
  10. "VDT-related musculoskeletal symptoms: interactions between work posture and psychosocial work factors". PMID 7832208.
  11. "Occupational repetitive strain injuries and gender in Ontario 1986 to 1991". PMID 7670905.
  12. Cook J (February 1988). "Work related repetitive movement problems. A successful management plan". Aust Fam Physician. 17 (2): 104–5. PMID 3358746.
  13. "How to Use the R.I.C.E Method for Treating Injuries".
  14. Ratzlaff, C. R.; J. H. Gillies; M. W. Koehoorn (April 2007). "Work-Related Repetitive Strain Injury and Leisure-Time Physical Activity". Arthritis & Rheumatism. 57 (3): 495–500. doi:10.1002/art.22610. PMID 17394178.
  15. Carolyn Kisner & Lyn Allen Colby, Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques, at 473 (5th Ed. 2007).
  16. Berkeley Lab. Integrated Safety Management: Ergonomics Archived 5 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine.. Website. Retrieved 9 July 2008.
  17. Ramazzini, De Morbis Artificum Diatriba (Diseases of Workers), Modena, 1700.
  18. Pearce JM (April 2009). "James Paget's median nerve compression (Putnam's acroparaesthesia)". Pract Neurol 9 (2): 96–9.
  19. Ahuja NK, Chung KC, "Fritz de Quervain, MD (1868–1940): stenosing tendovaginitis at the radial styloid process", J Hand Surg., vol.29 #6 pp. 1164–70.
  20. Tinel, J., “Nerve wounds” London: Baillère, Tindall and Cox, 1917
  21. Tinel, J., ‘’Le signe du fourmillement dans les lésions des nerfs périphériques’’, “Presse médicale”, 47, 388–389,1915
  22. Tinel, J. ‘’The "tingling sign" in peripheral nerve lesions’’ (Translated by EB Kaplan). In: M. Spinner M (Ed.), “Injuries to the Major Branches of Peripheral Nerves of the Forearm”, 2nd ed. pp 8–13, Philadelphia: WD Saunders Co, 1978.
  24. Vaidya, Hrisheekesh Jayant (March 2004). "Playstation thumb". The Lancet. 363 (9414): 1080. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)15865-0. PMID 15051306.
  25. Waugh D (September 1981). "Cuber's thumb". N. Engl. J. Med. 305 (13): 768. doi:10.1056/nejm198109243051322. PMID 7266622.
  26. "5 Modern Technology Strain Injuries | Carpal Tunnel Syndrome". 30 December 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  27. Raver’s Wrist
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