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Repetitive Strain Injuries

12 Ways to Avoid Them at the Office

Repetitive strain injuries are among the most common injuries in the United States. Many of these injuries are the result of repetitive actions of daily living such as working at a desk.

Main holding head in pain in front of computer

What is a Repetitive Strain Injury?

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a painful condition in which the prolonged performance of repetitive movements causes your muscles and tendons to become damaged over time. This condition is also known as repetitive stress injury, repetitive motion disorder, occupational overuse injury or occupational overuse syndrome. RSI commonly affects the wrists and hands.

Typical Causes of RSI in the Wrists and Hands

  • Typing with no wrist support
  • Using a computer mouse
  • Sitting in a cramped position
  • Swiping items at a supermarket checkout
  • Using vibrating power tools
  • Working on an assembly line
  • Bending the neck to hold a phone handset
  • Gripping a steering wheel
  • Holding tools with small/narrow handles, such as sewing needles or knives
man's hands typing on laptop wearing bullseye brace wrist band

Symptoms of RSI

  • Pain, aching or tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Throbbing
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Weakness
  • Cramping
  • Swelling
  • Sensitivity to cold and heat

12 Ways to Avoid RSI Working at the Computer

  1. Adjust your chair so your lower back is properly supported and your knees are slightly lower than your hips
  2. Rest your feet on the floor (use a footrest, if necessary)
  3. Adjust your chair height so you can use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor
  4. Keep your elbows by the side of your body so your arm forms an L-shape at the elbow joint
  5. Don’t cross your legs
  6. Place your screen directly in front of you, at eye level and about an arm’s length away (use a monitor stand if necessary)
  7. Place your keyboard in front of you when typing
  8. Leave a gap of about 4 to 6 inches at the front of the desk to rest your wrists (or use a wrist rest)
  9. Position and use the mouse as close to you as possible
  10. Avoid repeatedly stretching or twisting to reach things like the telephone or stapler – move them closer
  11. Cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder for long periods can strain the muscles in your neck (get a headset)
  12. Don’t sit in the same position for too long. Stretch and move about to change your posture as often as is practicable

Treating RSI Wrist and Hand Pain

Despite your efforts to improve your posture and create an ergonomic workstation, it’s a good idea to see your doctor if you’re experiencing the above symptoms or if loss of function is limiting your activities. An exam may include range of motion tests and checking for tenderness, inflammation, reflexes, and strength in the affected area.  Your doctor may order magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound to assess tissue damage or an electromyography (EMG) to check possible nerve damage.

If the injury is severe, you may be referred to a specialist or surgeon.

For mild damage, in addition to changing the activity that caused the injury, a number of treatments are available that could help speed your recovery:

  • Rest
  • Using a functional wrist brace like the Bullseye Wrist Band 
  • Applying ice/cold packs
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs)
  • Steroid injection
  • Physical Therapy
  • Physiotherapy, massage or osteopathy
  • Acupuncture