Repetitive Strain Injury Rsi Treatments

Getting the correct treatment for a repetitive stress injury is essential for healing the affected areas. Finding a doctor who can correctly diagnose RSI and develop the proper way to stop the condition from spreading or worsening is also important.

Your primary-care physician should be your first call. Many primary care physicians are able to diagnose and treat mild RSI without the need of a specialist, although patients are often referred to specialists in severe or chronic situations. The specialist consultants you are likely to see are:

  • orthopedic surgeons
  • rheumatologists
  • neurologists
  • massage therapists
  • occupational therapists.

The medical professional seen for RSI treatment often depends on the seriousness of the injury. The earlier a doctor can implement a treatment plan, the sooner the condition can be resolved. RSI treatment can range from rest and pain management to surgery.

RSI: The Medical Diagnosis

Diagnosis of RSI is not a specific process. Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and heart problems must be tested for and ruled out before RSI can be considered. However, even then it is difficult to arrive at a definite diagnosis.

Because each case is unique and root causes vary, there is no standard RSI treatment.

If you are referred to a specialist or physical therapist always ask the following questions:

  • How much experience do they have in treating RSI?
  • How good are they at treating RSI?
  • How does this treatment work?

Tools Used in RSI Diagnosis

In addition to evaluating your symptoms, your doctor may use one of the following diagnostic procedures to help determine the presence and severity of RSI.

Nerve conduction studies (NCS) and EMG tests: In the NCS an electrode connects to a point in the hand and a small electrical current passes through the arm. This allows the speed of the nerve responses to be determined. A time delay picked up along the nerve suggests that the problem may be due to a pinched nerve.

Diagnostic imaging: Your doctor may order x-rays to check for skeletal problems, such as osteoarthritis, in the wrist, back or neck. You doctor may also check for an extra rib in the case of thoracic outlet syndrome. Should the x-ray fail to reveal anything significant, your doctor may suggest a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to assess your shoulders, back, or neck.

Differential Diagnosis

Symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome are similar to those caused by a repetitive strain injury. Thoracic outlet syndrome, or TOS, is actually a group of disorders that affect the nerves running from the neck down the arm and the blood vessels and nerves that run between the base of the neck and the armpit.

Traumatic TOS is caused by repetitive or traumatic movements. The symptoms include pain, tingling, loss of sensation and weakness.

Based on your symptoms and your doctor’s finding you may then be referred to another doctor or therapist to begin the healing process.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Treatments

Many different therapies are available for the treatment of repetitive strain injuries. Through relaxation and simple exercise, it is possible to treat some RSI at home.

The Alexander Technique: By taking a quiet moment to concentrate on how your body works, through a series of self-awareness exercises, the Alexander Technique can help you to avoid posture and habits harmful to your health. Like meditation, this technique uses the theory that focusing inward and stopping unnecessary motions at work or during exercise, can help reduce physical pain. This is especially good for problems related to the back, neck and shoulders.

RICE: Many people find that activities such as walking and swimming help relieve their RSI symptoms. Exercise is beneficial in many areas of life and is also a great asset in preventing and treating RSI. However, RICE remains the key to beginning the healing process:

  • Rest: Take time away from whatever it is that created the RSI. When at home, do what you can to avoid using the injured area.
  • Ice: Ice constricts the blood vessels in the area reducing inflammation and swelling. If you don’t have an ice pack, a bag of frozen peas can do the trick. Ice the area several times daily, or as recommended by your doctor.
  • Compression: Using an elastic bandage to compress the affected area will work with the ice to reduce swelling. A bandage should be snug, but never tight, your physician or nurse can show you the proper way to bandage your injury.
  • Elevation: Elevating the injured area above the heart helps to reduce swelling by reducing blood flow to the area.

Pain Medication: If RICE doesn’t work, many over-the-counter drugs can be used to alleviate pain before you see a physician. The most common over-the-counter drug is acetaminophen (Tylenol®, paracetemol). Although this drug does not have the anti-inflammatory effects of aspirin and ibuprofen, it tends not to cause stomach problems. Some anti-inflammatory gels can be rubbed into the area of inflammation or pain. Do not take painkillers to mask the pain so you can continue working; this will only make your RSI worse and more difficult to treat.

Splints: Splints are another way to help deal with an RSI. A splint should only be worn on the advice of a doctor or physical therapist, who will ensure that the splint fits properly. Follow the advice of your doctor regarding when and how long to wear a splint.

Massage: Massage is a very good pain remedy, when done correctly. Massage improves the blood flow, releases toxins and encourages relaxation. Have your back, shoulders, neck, arms and hands massaged as often as possible. If you have a partner, buy him or her a good book on massage as a gift.

Physical Therapy: A physical therapist will test for pinched nerves as well as back and neck problems, working the damaged area slowly back to its full potential. Most physical therapists only do six sessions before you need to see your primary-care physician or consultant again. Pain clinics run by rheumatologists are another source of physical therapy. Look for a clinic that specializes in pain management and not just pain relief.

In many cases, RSI injuries are treated by a series of Adverse Neural Dynamics Stretches, designed to exercise the nerves, and remove and relieve the tethered points. A physical therapist will show you how to do these exercises and should also teach you exercises to mobilize your back and neck. Many RSI sufferers have problems in these areas without realizing it, causing pain in the hands and arms.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists will give you a brief summary of the condition, and provide information on joint protection and ways of conserving energy. They will also promote desirable habits in personal and domestic tasks, leisure and work, and will develop a program that may include wearing splints, specific exercises and taking regular rest breaks.

Chiropractic and Osteopathy

Chiropractors and osteopaths manipulate joints and muscles that help with a wide variety of conditions, especially neck and back pain. They are most effective when the symptoms are not chronic.

Surgery for RSI

Sometimes RSI can be so extreme that it requires surgery. Surgery is usually the last attempted treatment since it can be expensive and the recovery uncomfortable. Depending on the severity of the condition, several surgical procedures will be considered by your doctor and surgeon:

Carpal Tunnel Release: This operation is a simple outpatient procedure during which the surgeon “shaves” the wrist ligament, releasing the pressure inside the carpal tunnel.

Trigger Finger Release: This surgery enlarges the narrow part of the carpal tunnel and allows the swollen tendon to pass freely back and forth through the narrow area, resulting in normal motion.

Wrist Tendonitis Surgery: During this particular surgery, the roof of the carpal tunnel is opened to decompress the tendons. Additional separate compartments are also released. This allows the tendons to glide back and forth freely. A small soft dressing or light splint is applied to the hand, causing minimal stress to the patient.

Medial Epicondylitis (Golfer’s Elbow) Surgery: In severe cases of golfer’s elbow, the surgeon will split the tendons attached to the medial epicondyle to reveal the scar tissue that is causing the discomfort. This scar tissue is then surgically removed.


Repetitive Strain Injury Info. (nd). Treating RSI.

Your Medical Source. (2002). How is CTS treated? Yahoo! Health.