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What is RSI?

By on January 9, 2015 in Health & Safety, Office Workers


Over the next few weeks, specialist osteomyologist Paul Manley will be giving you the low-down on repetitive strain injury, explaining what RSI is, how to avoid it, and what to do if you’re afflicted by it.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a general term used to describe a primary cause of a condition. It can also indicate an aggravating factor of a pre-existing condition. It simply refers to the repeated use of particular muscle groups as causative and/or aggravating factors. Most often it is used to classify conditions related to computer work. It also includes most commonly writing with pen or pencil, activities involving prolonged periods of gripping, playing musical instruments, typing and mousing.

The principle is simple. For example, if I were to stroke my cats’ chin with my index finger once, there would be no problem.

If I were to do this one thousand times in an hour, both my index finger tendons and my cat would complain bitterly. But while the muscles and tendons effecting the movement would become tired and begin to ache, they would recover quickly.

However, if I were then to perform the same activity each day for a week, I would probably find that I could only repeat it a few times before my muscles would feel tired and achy, plus, my cat, now with a bald chin, would not be too pleased.

Thus, any action repeated too many times, no matter how light, will produce a repetitive strain. ‘Nintendo and Blackberry thumb’ are classic examples.

I too have suffered many repetitive strain injuries as a result of the hands-on work that I do in clinic. Intense guitar playing and ‘mousing’ my PC for hours creating many websites don’t help either. However, such episodes have served to edify me with regard to the general and specific nature of finger, wrist, arm, shoulder, neck and upper ribcage interactions. When the deep ‘stabilising’ muscles of the forearm become “hypertonic” or overly tense they lose oxygen and rapidly tire, causing pain. Pain will be generally perceived at the anchor points of the muscles and their tendons, namely the elbow and upper forearm, and the fingers and wrist.

Next week I’ll describe how nerves, muscles, tendons and psychological factors play a part in RSI.


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