Repetitive Strain Injury Rsi Types Symptoms

Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) are elusive conditions because they have general symptoms that develop over extremely long periods of time, usually over the course of years. In fact, many people live with the symptoms from a repetitive strain injury for some time without getting an official diagnosis or receiving treatment. RSIs are so common that we have a series of funny idioms we use to refer to them, including writer’s cramp and tennis elbow.

Three Categories of RSI

The various types of RSI are divided into three categories:

  • Compression Syndromes: This type of RSI refers to conditions in which the nerves, arteries or veins are compressed, causing pain, numbness and weakness. Common compression syndromes include carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome and ulnar nerve (the nerve that runs through the pinky and ring finger) compression.
  • Localized Inflammations: These conditions are marked by the swelling of a tendon or the inability of a tendon to move due to the buildup of tissue blockage in that tendon’s sheath (tunnel). Localized inflammations cause a person to suffer from pain and swelling. Common forms of this type of RSI include trigger finger, tenosynovitis (inflammation of any tendons in the hand) and rotator cuff syndrome.
  • Pain Syndromes: As the name suggests, these syndromes are characterized by chronic pain that affects the musculoskeletal system. Chronic fatigue, muscle aches and sleep disorders are common symptoms of pain syndromes. Typical pain syndrome conditions include fibromyalgia, myofascial syndrome and reflex sympathetic dystrophy.

Symptoms of RSI

Because there are so many varied forms of repetitive strain injury, the warning signs of this condition can vary dramatically in type and intensity of experience. However, all forms of RSI do share some symptoms, including:

  • burning sensations
  • fatigue
  • feelings of coldness in affected areas
  • feelings of hardness or bumpiness when affected areas are touched
  • loss of motor function
  • loss of sensation
  • numbness or a tingling sensation
  • regular pain and stiffness in various parts of the body (i.e. the hands, wrists, shoulders, neck, etc.)
  • tremors
  • weakness or lack of strength in affected areas.

Because these symptoms cause physical discomfort, you may also notice yourself starting to frequently:

  • crack your knuckles, wrists or neck
  • massage your hands
  • shift positions
  • take pain medication.

Although the discomfort caused by the initial symptoms may be enough for you to recognize that you suffer from RSI, the above behavioral changes can be easier to identify if you are accustomed to feeling generally achy.

Keep in mind that you may experience some of the above symptoms in parts of your body that are unaffected by RSI. Because the nerves and muscles in certain parts of our body are connected to those in other areas, stress, pressure and tension in a localized area can cause a related area to suffer from RSI symptoms.

If you start to notice that you are experiencing any symptoms related to RSI, seek immediate medical attention for a proper diagnosis. Getting diagnosed and learning about your treatment options will prevent the condition from worsening and causing you future, more intense discomfort.


University of British Columbia (2007). RSI Symptoms (2007). Retrieved June 28, 2007 from: