Health & Safety – Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse. 

Repetitive action is when you do the same movement over and over again for long periods of time. Where it first causes strain, and then injury. Which is why we call it Repetitive Strain Injury.

It is similar to a sports injury, if, while running, leg was sprained, you wouldn’t run on it until it was better and the pain went away and the muscles had recovered from the injury.

Similar things can happen with your hands and arms, so be careful not to over use them in the same old way if they feel “sprained” it is important to rest them and seek treatment.

Children as young as seven have been known to develop Diffuse RSI. While some students taking GCSEs and A-levels cannot write their own exam papers due to RSI, and have to rely upon dictating answers to teachers. It is also quite common for students at university to find that writing their dissertation results in chronic RSI.

What causes RSI?

RSI is related to the overuse of muscles and tendons in the upper body. Certain things are thought to increase the risk of RSI, including:

  • repetitive activities
  • doing a high-intensity activity for a long time without rest
  • poor posture or activities that require you to work in an awkward position
  • Cold temperatures
  • vibrating equipment
  • stress can also be a contributing factor.


It’s important to work in a comfortable environment which has been appropriately adjusted. Your employer has a legal duty to try to prevent work-related RSI and ensure anyone who already has the condition doesn’t get any worse.

How RSI is treated

The first step in treating RSI is usually to identify and modify the task or activity that is causing the symptoms. If necessary, you may need to stop doing the activity altogether.

To relieve symptoms, your GP may advise taking a course of anti-inflammatory painkillers (such as aspirin or ibuprofen), or using a heat or cold pack, elastic support or splint.

You may also be referred to a physiotherapist for advice on posture and how to strengthen or relax your muscles. Some people find that other types of therapy help to relieve symptoms, including massage, yoga and osteopathy.

How to Avoid RSI

The combination of repetitive movements, poor posture, and over use of computers, games consoles and mobile phone texting/playing games, without taking breaks, can cause injury to the nerves, muscles and tendons, in the fingers, hands, wrists, arms, elbows, shoulders, and neck, which if ignored, may lead to long-term damage.

Bad habits in the way you sit, use or misuse your body, or even lack of exercise, can cause problems as you get older. Be aware and listen to what your body is saying – a whisper is a warning to take care – a shout is a definite cry for help because of damage done already. Never, ever, ignore these symptoms as long-term damage can happen.

Be very aware of stiffness, sharp pain or dull ache, numbness or tingling, or poor grip, which may come on after a heavy session on the computer using either the keyboard or the mouse, or when using a pen, or with thumb movements when using a Games Console, or when texting on a mobile phone.

Try to take breaks between hand activities, of a few minutes each half-hour or ten minutes each hour. Massage your hands and arms to restore the circulation and refresh the muscles and tendons. Flex your fingers, and stretch your arms out to the side, above your head, then to your sides, keeping your spine straight. This applies at home or at work.

Checklist at the Computer

Be aware that laptop computers force you into a hunched position and force the hands into a claw like position.

  • Check your body position – straighten up and flex and move – try not to get “lost in time and space” for hours on end. Don’t sprawl in the chair, or twist your spine, or crane your neck
  • Is your chair height adjustable and is the back support adjustable?
  • Is the desk or table height suitable and comfortable, is there enough space for your legs under the desk?
  • Do you need a footrest?
  • Is the monitor at the proper viewing distance for you (usually 60cm from your eyes)?
  • Is the monitor straight in front of you (correct), instead of off to the side (incorrect)? Is it positioned to avoid glare/reflection?
  • Is there enough desk space for the keyboard and space for your hands and forearms to rest, while you check your work?
  • Do you use a paper holder or is there enough space for your work papers?
  • Is there enough desk space for you to use the mouse in the central position, or to change hands, to avoid developing “mouse arm” (stiffness, numbness and pain) caused by holding one arm rigidly out to one side and clutching the mouse in a claw-like position.


See Tips to prevent RSI for more detailed advice.

Checklist for Games Consoles

When using a games console do you sit hunched over it with your head tilted back gazing at the screen? And are your hands and arms rigid with the thumbs/ fingers moving at speed?

Take a break and move around to give your hands, arms, neck, shoulders, and your eyes a change of scene.

Checklist for Mobile Phones

Be aware that by using a mobile phone and holding it in one hand, with that hand in a claw position, and when moving the thumb rapidly over the keypad, puts an enormous strain on tendons in the arm.

  • In between times, massage your hand and thumb, and rotate your hands at the wrists, in clockwise and anticlockwise directions. If it already hurts to text, use the fingers of the other hand or the end of a pen to press the keypad, reduce using your phone, and get medical help.
  • Should you feel any of these symptoms
  • Keep a diary of any aches and pains, and when, and for how long you use the equipment.


Remember – prevention is better than cure, you only have one body & one life

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