Treatment of repetitive strain injury (RSI)

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Patients who are diagnosed with repetitive strain injury or RSI need to work towards early detection and prevention of the activity that aggravates their condition primarily to prevent further damage. (1-5)

Treatment options for RSI

Treatment options for this condition include:

Pain relievers

Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Aspirin and Ibuprofen may help in relieving pain, stiffness and inflammation of the affected muscles.

Local application of hot or cold packs also help in reducing inflammation and stiffness and eases the symptoms

Sleeping tablets

When RSI is interfering with sleep, physicians may also prescribe sleeping tablets.

Patients with long term debility may also suffer from mental health problems like depression and anxiety disorders. These patients require medications and/or behavioural therapy to address these problems.

Stopping the causative activity

Ideally the activity, posture, repetition or vibration that is responsible for the condition should be stopped. If this is not possible (in cases where the patient needs to perform the same activity every day at work) ways should be devised to minimize the effects.

A physiotherapist or an occupational therapist can advise on the best posture to adopt and also prescribe exercises to strengthen or relax the muscles.

Steroid drugs

In severe cases for example in tendonitis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tenosynovitis etc. steroid drugs may be needed. In some cases steroids (anti-inflammatory drugs) may be injected into the affected area to reduce inflammation.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes include contemplating on the aggravating activity and planning rest of the affected muscles between activities.

Lifestyle changes also include inclusion of daily exercises like walking or swimming as well as time for relaxation and stress relief.

Other therapies

Other special therapies include physiotherapy, massage and osteopathy. Some of the complementary therapy and relaxation techniques include yoga, acupuncture and reflexology. These may be adopted for RSI under supervision.

Other therapies include Transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS), ultrasound therapy etc.

Surgical therapy for nerve release or easing a tendon is one of the last resorts in severe cases.

Preventing RSI

RSI can be prevented by simple measures at the work place. Preventive measures include:

  • Measures to make the seat, keyboard, mouse and computer screen more comfortable. This reduces the strain on fingers, hands, wrists, neck and back.

  • Sitting at the desk with a good posture and adjusting the chair so that the forearms are horizontal with the desk and eyes are at the same level as the top of the computer screen.

  • For repetitive tasks regular breaks are important for recovery of the muscles. Rotating jobs between limbs also prevents any one tendon, nerve, or joint from being subjected to repeated stresses.

  • Position of the body and the limbs should be altered frequently to prevent static injuries.

  • Over reaching, straining, twisting etc. should be avoided as much as possible.

  • A foot rest or foot rail should be used to place one foot on periodically. This helps shift some of the body weight and rest the muscles for workers who need to stand for long hours.

  • Good shoes are important for posture as well.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 8, 2012

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