Dealing with Repetitive Strain

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a condition that generally affects muscles in the upper body, most commonly the elbow, hands, wrists, shoulders and forearm. The term repetitive strain is a general phrase that’s used to describe the nerve, tendon and muscle pain that is caused by overuse and repetitive movement.

Repetitive strain injury is more often than not a work-related condition; however, it can also occur if you train consistently in a single sport, or take part in several sports that rely on the same muscles, for example tennis and badminton.


Repetitive strain injury is generally pretty easy to identify and the main symptoms include:

  • Stiffness
  • Numbness and/ or tingling
  • Pain/ tenderness
  • Cramp

If you think you could be suffering with repetitive strain then it’s important to discuss with your employer, any alterations that could be made to your work station and the way that you work so that the symptoms can be relieved.


The only way to treat a repetitive strain injury is to identify the task that is causing the problem, so this is the initial stage of treatment. Once the problem task has been identified it should be modified or stopped completely in order to prevent the RSI worsening. As well as modifying the activity, in order to relieve your symptoms, your doctor is also likely to prescribe a course of anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen; they could also provide you with an elastic support bandage or splint to help ease the pain too.

In more severe cases, or when it would be impossible to stop doing the problem activity, you may also be referred to a physiotherapist where you’ll be advised on ways to improve your posture, strengthening and relaxing muscles and positions that will help to relieve your symptoms.


There are two types of repetitive strain injury. Type 1 can be related to a medical condition, for example, carpal tunnel syndrome, whereas type 2 is diagnosed when a specific cause cannot be found.


Legally, all employers have a duty to prevent work-related repetitive strain injury. They also have to ensure that the symptoms of any employee who already suffers with the condition are not worsened by their job. The majority of employers should perform a risk assessment when you first join the company to ensure your work station is set-up in a way that is comfortable to you and is not causing you to reach and stretch on a regular basis.

Repetitive strain injury is extremely common in offices, where people are constantly sat at a computer and also production line jobs where the same movements will be performed repeatedly.

Things you can do to prevent RSI

If you want to avoid repetitive strain injuries then there are a number of things that you can do which will reduce the chance of developing any symptoms. If you use a computer for the majority of your work then follow this advice:

  • Ensure you sit up straight at all times and that your chair fully supports your back – if the back of your chair is flimsy and prevents you from leaning back properly then you’re likely to overuse your back muscles and this could lead to the development of a repetitive strain injury.
  • It’s important that your chair is the correct height for you. If it’s not and your feet don’t touch the ground then ask for a footrest.
  • Your computer screen should always be at least 50cm away from your eyes – ideally it should be more like 90cm away.
  • Your screen, keyboard and mouse should be directly in front of you and the mouse should be as close to the keyboard as possible – you shouldn’t have to stretch or reach at all.

Making a claim

Because it’s difficult to prove the cause of RSI symptoms, it’s important for you to record any pain or strange sensation as soon as it happens. Even before RSI is diagnosed, if you have a record of when and where the pain started, what you were doing at the time and what you have been doing each time the pain has started since, then you’re much more likely to be successful in your claim.

If you suffer with repetitive strain injury and believe that it’s as a result of poor working conditions, we’re experts in the field so don’t hesitate to give us a call.

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