Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is not a specific injury, but instead a loose grouping of similar injuries. These injuries are also often called repetitive stress injuries, cumulative trauma disorder (CTD), repetitive motion disorders, and overuse syndromes. These are soft tissue injuries associated with long-term stress on an area of the body. These are usually caused by a prolonged activity in a poor posture or misalignment of the joints involved. Repeating the same activity over an extended period of time can lead to an RSI. Musicians are often quite susceptible to these types of injuries.
RSI is a common injury in manufacturing work and with computer work, although it is also found in many sport activities. Sports requiring the same movements, in similar planes and range of motion, can quickly lead to repetitive strain injuries. Tennis, pitching (baseball and softball), golf, and distance running are a few of the sports associated with repetitive stress injuries.
An RSI can occur in any muscle, tendon or joint that is impacted by a repetitive stress, although it is most commonly found in the shoulder, elbow or wrist. Below is a list of some of the more common repetitive strain injuries for each body area.
What Causes RSI?
Repetitive stress injuries are usually a result of prolonged repetitions of a movement without adequate rest or movements done in an incorrect or poor posture. An overload of stress on muscles, tendons or joints over a period of time without adequate rest might also lead to RSI. Going beyond muscle fatigue in any activity may cause extra stress on tendons and bones causing a repetitive stress injury. Any movement done in an awkward or unnatural manner for multiple repetitions or long duration can cause an injury as well.
Signs and Symptoms
Initially pain may be felt only during an activity and stopping the movement may bring relief. Over time this discomfort carries into rest time as well. With prolonged use and lack of treatment the pain may become severe, even crippling.
Tingling and numbness, along with swelling and loss of strength and / or flexibility in the affected area may also occur. The tingling and numbness will usually occur distally (away from the body) from the actual injury site.
Compression of the nerves and or blood vessels passing through the injury site is the common causes of the pain, tingling and numbness. The pain usually starts out localized to the site of the injury but over time may radiate away from the site along the extremity.
The affected muscles may cramp at times and sensation may be lost or impaired to the affected part of the body.
The first step in treating an RSI is to stop the offending activity. Resting from the activity will stop the repetitive stress applied to that area. Ice and anti-inflammatory medications may help the swelling and inflammation in the affect area. Stretching and relaxation exercises for the affected area will help relieve some of the muscle tension. Massage may also help alleviate the pain and muscular tension.
Splints and physical therapy may be needed in some cases to alleviate the stress on the muscles and tendons. Surgery is rarely needed, but may become necessary in extreme cases to alleviate the symptoms and prevent additional damage.
Prevention of repetitive stress injuries is much more important, and less costly, than treating them. Addressing the issues that can cause this type of injury helps to avoid it from happening.
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