Repetitive Strain Injuries
Repetitive strain injuries (RSI) occur primarily in the hand, arm, foot and ankle, and are sustained gradually over a long period of time due to incorrect use or cumulative overuse. Such injuries can also affect the back, neck or eyes.
Pain in the ankle or foot, hands or arms, regularly including the fingers, wrists or shoulders. The type of pain (e.g. aches or sharp sudden pain) varies from person to person, and can be present in a small area or an entire limb. It will often worsen after activity, especially those in which posture or repetitive movements are key. RSI can also present without pain symptoms, and other warning signs in the affected body parts include fatigue, numbness, an inability to sufficiently control their motion, and coldness.
Your behaviour may also be affected, for instance by relying on one hand or foot more than the other, frequently dropping items, having trouble wearing certain clothing due to pain, or your sports activities becoming more difficult to pursue.
Overuse combined with unsuitable posture or technique is the general cause of RSI. Relying heavily on the same muscles for prolonged periods puts them at risk of becoming weakened and thus prone to injury. While RSI is often associated with computer work, damaging repetition is also common in many sports, such as tennis, golf and long distance running. These can lead to maintaining abnormal posture or continuing an activity without sufficient rest. Your pain might also be caused in part by psychosocial aspects such as the stresses of the related job or activity.
Cease the sport or activity that led to the RSI in order to take a break and reduce the repetitive strain. Icing the affected area can help with pain and reducing any accompanying swelling, as can anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (always check with a doctor before starting a new program of medication). Lessen the muscle tension with gentle stretching and massage techniques if feasible. Consult a doctor to determine the specific cause and type of your RSI, as they can differ in severity and the amount of medical treatment required. Some injuries classified as RSI are discussed in more detail in other articles on this site, such as tennis elbow, stress fractures, and shin splints.
If an activity repeatedly causes you pain it is important to avoid it, at least until you can identify the issues involved and modify your behaviour accordingly. Warm up the specific areas needed for an activity, and strengthen them regularly with suitable stretches and exercises. Good posture, without unnaturally curving your spine or placing inordinate weight on your neck or back, will significantly reduce the likelihood of RSI. Always rest whenever possible, adding breaks to your work or training routine. Do not strain excessively by overstretching smaller muscles; gripping items such as balls or pens too tightly can lead to this strain. Be prepared to significantly alter how you conduct your daily activities, as the repetitive nature of RSI means that a frequent aspect of your lifestyle will have caused the injury.