A repetitive strain injury (RSI) is an injury caused by repetition of routine physical tasks. Also known as repetitive stress injuries, RSIs were primarily associated with sporting activities until the late 20th century, when computers became standard in the workplace and doctors noticed a sharp uptick in non-sports related RSIs. The diagnosis of RSI is controversial in some regions, as this condition is sometimes poorly defined, and people who claim to have strain injuries are sometimes accused of malingering.
The cause of an RSI is believed to be repeated motion or regular use of a tool within a very limited range of motion. Keyboarding is a classic example of an activity which can lead to strain, as are activities like tennis, running machine equipment on an assembly line, and golf. The incidence of such injuries can be avoided by using proper posture at work or play, taking regular rest breaks, building up strength, and avoiding overuse, among other things.
The term “RSI” is often used to refer to a whole family of physical issues also known as overuse syndromes or cumulative trauma disorders, including very clearly defined conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome. When a patient appears in a doctor's office seeking medical attention for pain and tenderness which cannot be linked with a specific medical issue but are believed to be associated with repetitive activities, the doctor may determine that the patient has an RSI even if no diagnostic proof can be obtained.
Symptoms of an RSI include pain, tenderness, tingling, tightness, weakness, and bruising around the area of the body which is used for a repetitive activity. Computer users, for example, often experience these symptoms in the hands and arms. Medical imaging studies may not reveal anything functionally wrong, although the patient reports pain and tenderness, and a doctor can see that the patient responds when the area is pressured or handled during an examination. Weakness may also be demonstrated in grasping tests.
Treatment for RSI can vary, depending on the nature of the injury. Rest is usually recommended, and patients may need to undergo physical therapy or surgery to treat specific issues. The patient will also usually be encouraged to learn new methods of moving so that he or she can avoid repeating the injury after a return to the previous activity. A doctor may also recommend that a patient consider alternatives to the activity which caused the RSI. A typist, for example, could use dictation software instead of a keyboard.