RSI — Repetitive Stress Injury — Be Aware and Prevent Injury

Your’re slumped over your desk, furiously typing away. Instant messaging keeps dinging at you…. Just a few more minutes…. You glance at the clock, and it’s already 11:30 a.m. and you realize you haven’t moved since you got to your office at 8:00 a.m.

The burning sensation between your shoulder blades is now to painful to ignore. As you get up to go to your boss’s office, you also notice that your wrist and hands are beginning to tingle.  You ask, “What’s wrong with me?” Well, the answer is easy: You are the victim of repetitive stress injury (RSI)! RSI’s are quite common and are really considered a “mechanism of injury” not a diagnosis. With today’s work force becoming more reliant on computers and multitasking, it’s hard to escape the day-to-day punching of your keyboard, hunching over your desk and wrenching your neck while talking on the phone.

RSIs not only occur in adults, but are also showing up in our children.  We have become a fast-paced society, and our overall health is paying the toll. We have seen many massage clients over the years suffering from RSI.

Any action that is performed over and over can place undue stress on a particular joint, tendon, muscle, nerve or other soft tissue.  The repetitive activity can result in pain and swelling in the area. There are several types of RSIs: carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, thoracic outlet syndrome, trigger finger/thumb, myofascial pain syndrome, DeQuervains’s syndrome and several other related syndromes.  Two common types of RSI are tendonitis and bursitis.

Tendonitis is simply an inflammation of the tendon.  Tendons are what attached muscle to bone.  When muscles become exhausted, stressed or overused, the tendon becomes inflamed.  Tendonitis causes the most pain during activity, but stiffness upon resting is also common.

Bursitis in an inflammation of the bursae, which are fluid-filled sacs that act like cushions and lubricating surfaces between the tendons, muscles, and bones.  When healthy, the bursae provide a smooth gliding surface.  If a bursa becomes inflamed or aggravated, the normal movement of the tendons and muscles sliding over the sac causes pain.

A variety of symptoms can be associated with an RSI.  These may include pain before, during or after activity, or tingling and numbness of hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders. You may also experience cold hands or lack of strength or coordination. Pain between the shoulders, neck and back can often indicate the presence of RSI, often aggravated by poor posture that many of us have while seated at our computers.

What can you do about RSIs? As always, if your pain is severe, seek the advice of your physician. And don’t ignore the problem; take action! If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, seek professional help from a massage therapist, physical therapist, acupuncturist or chiropractor.

The first step to getting better is becoming aware.

Evaluate the ergonomics of your computer work station and your posture. Finding different ways to do things easier, use correct equipment and take frequent breaks.  Taking time out for periodic stretching breaks is an excellent preventative technique.  You can add a variety of quick and easy self-help stretching and strengthening exercises to your daily work routine.

And remember to relax and breathe! A few minutes of daily breathing, mediating, or visualization exercises can go a long way in reducing stress and braking the cycle of RSI. To help yourself you must protect yourself, protect your joints and your body.