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Repetitive Strain Injury

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Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are injuries to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that may be caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained/ awkward positions. The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the forearm, elbow, wrist, hands, neck and shoulders. 

In recent years it is computer operators, typists, musicians and people doing repetitive tasks in factories who most commonly develop RSI. Initially symptoms may only occur whilst a person is carrying out the repetitive task and ease off when they rest.  However, gradually in time the symptoms can be present all the time but tend to be aggravated by doing the repetitive task. 

RSI’s 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 DeQuervain's tendinitis, Phalen's ContortionTinel's Percussion for carpal tunnel syndrome, and nerve conduction velocity tests that show nerve compression in the wrist.

The primary warning sign of RSI is pain in the upper extremities (fingers, palms, wrists, forearms and shoulders).  Untreated symptoms can lead to long term (chronic) pain and disability. Symptoms in the affected area can include:

  • Pain
  • Tightness
  • Dull ache
  • Throbbing
  • Numbness
  • Tingling

RSI can limit a person’s ability to perform their work
The three primary risk factors are poor posture, poor technique and overuse.  Thus any activity where the body will be required to perform repetitive tasks is at risk of repetitive strain injury unless the correct posture or position is held.

Repetitive strain injury can affect more than a person’s hands and wrists. Poor posture can lead to severe neck and back injuries. Prevention and treatment measures speed up recovery. However, some people develop symptoms that persist long-term, which can be debilitating.

Fatigue can often be associated with a repetitive strain injury. The actual pain itself can have a weakening impact; however, depending on the type and severity of the RSI, it can also affect sleeping patterns.

Employers have a legal duty to prevent work-related RSI. This is under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Also employers must ensure that anyone who is suffering from RSI that their condition does not get worse.