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Repetitive Strain Injuries

What Is RSI?

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse.

The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the:

  • forearms and elbows
  • wrists and hands
  • neck and shoulders

Common Symptoms of RSI

The symptoms of RSI can range from mild to severe and usually develop gradually. They often include:

  • pain, aching or tenderness
  • stiffness
  • throbbing
  • tingling or numbness
  • weakness
  • cramp

At first, you might only notice symptoms when you're carrying out a particular repetitive action.

But without treatment, the symptoms of RSI may eventually become constant and cause longer periods of pain. You may also get swelling in the affected area, which can last for several months.


What Causes RSI?

RSI is related to the overuse of muscles and tendons in the upper body.

Certain things are thought to increase the risk of RSI, including:

  • repetitive activities
  • doing a high-intensity activity for a long time without rest
  • poor posture or activities that involve working in an awkward position

Cold temperatures and vibrating equipment are also thought to increase the risk of getting RSI and can make the symptoms worse. Stress can also be a contributing factor.

Jobs that involve repetitive movements can lead to RSI, such as working on an assembly line, at a supermarket checkout, or on a computer.

Your work environment should be as comfortable as possible. You should ideally have a workplace assessment so that any adjustments needed can be made.


How To Prevent RSI

There are things you can do to help reduce your risk of getting RSI, such as:

  • maintaining good posture at work
  • taking regular breaks from long or repetitive tasks – it's better to take smaller, more frequent breaks than one long lunch break
  • trying breathing exercises if you're stressed
  • take a stretch break multiple times throughout the day

If you work at a computer all day, make sure your seat, keyboard, mouse and screen are positioned so they cause the least amount of strain - check how you measure up.

The ErgoCAT online evaluation tool in the UC Learning Center is the first step to setting up or improving the ergonomics of your computer workstation; however, additional help may be necessary to ensure prevention of repetitive motion injuries. Coupled with a workstation evaluation, ErgoCAT is very effective at identifying high risk factors and corresponding corrective actions. Please also take a look at our guidance and tips worksheets available for setting up your workstation.

After making the recommended adjustments, if you are still experiencing frequent discomfort or require assistance in making changes based on the ErgoCAT recommendations, please contact our office for further evaluation at ergocat@ucmerced.edu, or call 209-228-ERGO, 209-500-9461.