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RSI repetitive strain injury physiotherapy
16th May 2021

Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI):how to avoid them.

Are you one of the lucky one who managed to get an appointment with the hairdresser? Since the lockdown has eased, these hard working “artists” who do wonders to make us look our best have been working incredibly hard. No surprise that my Monday’s diaries are filling up with hairdressers suffering of RSI, seeking help for their sore shoulders, neck, wrist, elbows or lower back.

But what is the problem?

In the majority of the cases we are talking about Repetitive strain injury (RSI)

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

I used the example of the hairdresser but this can affect every profession (even physiotherapists and chiropractors) or sport.

The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the:

  • neck and shoulders
  • forearms and elbows
  • wrists and hands

Symptoms of RSI

Ranging from mild to severe symptoms usually develop gradually. They often include:

  • pain, aching or tenderness
  • stiffness
  • throbbing
  • tingling or numbness
  • weakness
  • cramp

Symptoms at first might be noticeable only when you’re carrying out a particular repetitive action. If neglected or ignored though the ache can become constant pain. The affected structure may swell up becoming weaker and more painful.

What causes RSI?

RSI is related to the overuse of muscles and tendons in the upper body. Jobs at “high risk” to suffer RSI involve repetitive movements. Hair dressers, working on a computer or on an assembly line, at a supermarket checkout are some examples.

Usually, RSI happens when tendon and muscles have been asked to perform the same movements too many times without a break and without being conditioned to do it. Even worse if you repeat the same “wrong” movement in a poor posture.

It is a bit like driving the car at high speed and low gear for too long. Additionally imagine you do not press the clutch properly when changing gear. Results: overheated car, worn out gearbox, high petrol (energy) consume and so on.

Other contributing factors:

  • Cold temperatures
  • Vibrating equipment
  • Stress

Your work environment should be as comfortable as possible. You should ideally have a workplace assessment so that any adjustments needed can be made.

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.

If you work from home SWISSPHYSIO can help you with a video consultation

What to do

If the symptoms are related to your job, try to find out the most likely activity causing the problem. It may be possible to modify your workstation or tasks to improve your symptoms. 

Make sure your posture is correct. Imagine your trunk like the shaft of a crane and your arm being the arm of the crane. It will be very difficult, and more energy will be needed to lift a weight or hold it up for some time if the shaft of the crane is wobbly or wonky. The same thing happens if you are typing while slouching, or drying hair holding the shoulder up to your ears and so on.

You need to strengthen or relax your muscles and learn how to engage them properly in order to smoothly perform the tasks you have to perform all day. At Swissphysio we are experienced in identifying the cause of your RSI and helping you with tailored exercises and advice.

Sometimes using a hot or cold pack, elastic support or splint can help

How to prevent RSI

Carry out a risk assessment to check that your work area is suitable and comfortable for you. You can request an assessment if you have not had one.

There are also things you can do to help reduce your risk of getting RSI, such as:

  • maintaining good posture at work  
  • If you work at a computer all day, make sure your seat, keyboard, mouse and screen are positioned so they cause the least amount of strain.
  • taking regular breaks from long or repetitive tasks – it’s better to take smaller, more frequent breaks than one long lunch break
  • trying breathing exercises if you’re stressed

If you work from home SWISSPHYSIO  can help you with a video consultation

Published on: 16th May 2021