Repetitive Strain Injury Rsi

Anyone who experiences pain and loss of feeling in the hands or wrists probably has some type of RSI, especially if the symptoms are associated with repetitive tasks. In the U.S., many specialists prefer to refer to RSI as cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs).

Two different categories of RSI exist. These are Distinct RSI and Diffuse RSI.

Types of Distinct RSI

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS): This is the most widely recognized repetitive strain injury. Patients who suffer from CTS experience swelling of the membrane linings and surrounding tendons in the base of the palm. This inflammation compresses the nerve that supplies most of the feeling to the hand, causing numbness and aching in the inflamed area. The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include pain or numbness in the wrist, thumb and first three fingers and loss of strength or dexterity in the hand.

Bursitis: Individuals diagnosed with bursitis experience inflammation of the bursa against the tendons attaching the muscles to the shoulder or elbow. The specific symptoms are joint pain and stiffness, and limited movement.

Epicondylitis: Epicondylitis is otherwise known as tennis or mouser’s elbow. This condition includes inflammation or a tear of the tendons that attach the muscles of the forearm to the elbow. Because the muscles that bend the wrist down start at the elbow, tennis elbow can have widespread consequences. Forceful and repeated bending of the wrist and fingers cause tiny ruptures of the muscle and tendon around the “funny bone” on the inside of the elbow. Epicondylitis can produce painful symptoms and should be treated as soon as possible.

Tendonitis: Tendonitis causes inflammation of the tendon, often in the wrist, forearms, elbow or shoulder.

Tenosynovitis or Trigger Finger: This injury causes swelling of the tendon in a finger or thumb, interrupting movement of the tendon.

Types of Diffuse RSI

People suffering from diffuse RSI have multiple areas of diffuse pain in the muscles and other soft tissues. This condition is caused by nerve compression in areas where nerves or arteries are susceptible to pinching from joint movements, such as the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders and neck.

Common Symptoms of RSI

A repetitive strain injury is a progressive condition that begins with mild pain or weariness of the hands, wrists and arms.

RSI generally begins in the dominant wrist, hand or arm of an individual. Symptoms may start after periods of intense and prolonged activity. At onset, RSI symptoms may only be noticeable during working hours. Eventually, they become persistent and very painful.

Individuals who have RSI frequently massage the affected area and complain of chronic pain. Many people that suffer from RSI are unable to sleep at night due to the severe pain it causes. If the condition remains untreated, the pain from RSI becomes intolerable and crippling. Symptoms may include:

  • tenderness and pain in the neck, shoulder, upper back, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist or fingers
  • swelling of hands or forearms
  • tingling, numbness or loss of sensation in the hand or arm
  • muscle spasms or muscle weakness (including loss of strength in a grip)
  • difficulty using hands for domestic, work, and personal necessities
  • stabbing, dull, aching and intermittent pain in fingers, hands, wrists, elbows or arms
  • unusual sensations that may include numbness, tingling, stiffness, very cold sensations, tremors and burning in fingers, hands, wrists, elbows or arms
  • decreased sensitivity, motor control, endurance and strength in fingers, hands, wrists, elbows or arms
  • fingers, hands, wrists or elbows suddenly locking up or freezing
  • difficulty holding books and magazines, opening doors, turning keys in locks, holding a cup, preparing food, dressing, writing, holding on to a handrail, putting on jewelry or brushing hair and teeth
  • any of these symptoms waking you up at night.

If an RSI is not treated properly as soon as possible, it can become very serious and result in permanent damage. Sometimes RSI even requires surgery that could easily have been avoided had the proper preventive measures been taken.

Because the symptoms of RSI are so broad, it is sometimes hard to diagnose. For this reason, anyone who believes they are suffering from RSI should see a doctor as soon as possible to ensure proper diagnosis.


Marxhausen, P. (1996). Computer related repetitive strain injury.

Repetitive Strain Injury Association. (updated 2004). What is RSI?