Repetitive strain injury (RSI) occurs as a result of overuse or misuse of the body and it generally affects the upper extremities. It has been reported that approximately 60 percent of all occupational injuries can be attributed to RSI. This causes a significant decrease in productivity on a personal and professional level.
RSI usually occur in the fingers, elbows and wrists. The wrist joint experiences a great deal of stress as it is constantly used to perform simple tasks such as writing and typing. RSI is also quite common with musicians due to repetitive hand movements. The stress placed on the soft tissue (muscles, tendons, nerves, arteries and veins) of the extremities results in compression or entrapment as a result of inflammation.
Common symptoms include: tingling, pain, stiff achy joints, and intermittent numbness. If left untreated, these symptoms can lead to serious conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, tenosynovitis, and ganglionic cysts. The rule of thumb is to reduce further strain and rest the limb that is tingling, numb or hurting. It is important to identify the symptoms as early as possible and seek help.
It is very common for athletes, writers, individuals that use a computer on a daily basis, and those with repetitive natured jobs to ignore the symptoms of RSI. In order to prevent further injury and the resulting disability of RSI, it is best to seek the advice of a physical therapist.
There are several tips that you can utilize to avoid these RSI symptoms. If you are engaged in ongoing, repetitive activity on the job or during sports and recreational activities, it is important to rest periodically from the task and take note of the following: 1. Massage the limbs and joints 2. Stretch the muscles 3. Maintain hydration 4. Look for signs of overuse 5. If symptoms get worse, seek a physical therapist without delay
As physical therapist there are many things that we can do to improve symptoms of RSI and address the underlying causes that may delay your recovery. If left untreated some RSI can become worse to the point that surgery is the only option. However, addressing the problem early on almost always results in a full recovery. Some things that we look for and incorporate in a physical therapy session may include the following:
Strengthening the limbs and joints
Bracing with the use of splints and wrist pads
The goal of physical therapy in RSI is to reduce pain, improve motion and restore strength. Since RSI is a chronic injury and develops over time (and is often ignored in the early stages), a physical therapy rehabilitation program is essential. It provides a long-term solution to prevent further injury and regain quality of life. As your physical therapists, we know that daily life comes with its fair share of stress, and we don’t want you to have to deal with yet another source of (physical) stress in the form of RSI. We are here to help you, and are committed to help you get better, faster. If you have any questions related to RSI or would like to receive a mailed copy of our monthly newsletter please call our office at 910-249-4040.
Dr. Daniel Skulavik, PT, DPT, OCS, is with Advanced Physical Therapy located in the Food Lion Shopping Center, Clinton.