What is repetitive strain injury (RSI):

RSI is a term which refers to a range of conditions involving aches and pains in muscles, tendons or other soft tissues due to repetitive use or poor posture. This most commonly affects the upper body including the neck, shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist and hand.

According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, almost 450,000 UK workers have RSI. You are most likely to develop a RSI if your job involves overuse of your arms and hands such as desk work (e.g. use of computers, writing), however it can also be common in other occupations and leisure activities involving repetitive motion.  

Common RSI you may have heard of includes tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, and tendonitis.

Signs and symptoms include pain, swelling, pins and needles, numbness, muscle weakness and loss of dexterity. Symptoms may only be present during the repetitive activity, and be relieved at rest. However, as the condition develops you may find they become more persistent and debilitating.

Prevention is key:

There are many factors which predispose desk workers in particular to RSI. These include poor posture, lack of movement and breaks, stressful working environment and bad desk set up.

Ergonomic set up

Having your workstation assessed to meet your individual needs is essential in order to protect your body. Key points to consider are:

•    Adjusting your chair height so the top of your computer screen is at eye level
•    Forearms and wrists should be parallel to the floor and able to rest on the desk
•    Elbows are by the body forming and ‘L’ shape
•    Feet are rested flat on the floor (you may require a footstool)
•    Try to maintain a good posture – no slumping!
•    Desk accessories such as headsets and keyboard wrist rests can offer added support

Take regular breaks

The use of short, regular breaks is vital to allow muscles to rest and recover. Many work places are now providing standing desks to provide a break from sitting to encourage a less sedentary work place. 

Stay hydrated

By maintaining your fluid intake throughout the day you heart will more easily pump blood to your muscles, allowing them to work efficiently and help prevent injury.

Treatment of RSI:

Manual therapy such as osteopathy can help reduce and prevent future symptoms though soft tissue massage, joint mobilisation, exercises and lifestyle advice.

Medical treatment from your Doctor may include prescription of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) and muscle relaxants, however this is not necessary in all cases.

Self-help is also central to recovery. Try to reduce or stop the activity that you have identified to be causing your symptoms. This will include making changes to your work duties or desk set up. Cold packs and splints are also of benefit under correct medical advice. Once on the road to recovery, think about any lifestyle changes which can improve your muscle and joint adaptability such as swimming or Pilates.

It is important to note that pain is not always the first symptom of RSI! Do not wait to be in pain before you seek treatment as this can become a chronic condition and may delay recovery!


By Hannah-Rose Charters M.Ost