What is Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)? The Symptoms & Treatment Options

Written by Leon Mao
Physiotherapist, University of Melbourne
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on July 21, 2022

Man holding his wrist in pain

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a term for overuse injury which causes pain or uncomfortable condition to the muscles, tendons and nerves. It is commonly caused by work-related activities such as using a computer, training for sports and using power tools.[1]

What are the symptoms of repetitive strain injury?

Symptoms of RSI include pain, tenderness, and swelling. If the nerves are also affected, numbness, tingling sensation and sensitivity to heat or cold can also occur.[2] Typically, symptoms gradually develop and can worsen over time and affect your daily routine.

Causes of repetitive strain injury

RSI is caused by repetitive or overuse movements that gradually build up damage to the soft tissues and nerves in the body. Stressing the same body part through repetitive motion or maintaining a fixed posture can lead to RSI. In addition, previous strains and other injuries can predispose you to RSI.

How is RSI diagnosed?

It is recommended to seek consultation with a physiotherapist if you are experiencing pain or discomfort when doing specific tasks. Your physiotherapist will assess your health status and identify activities that may be causing your symptoms.

Your physiotherapist will perform special tests and physical exams to identify affected structures in your body and rule out other conditions that you may have.

Depending on the initial assessment, your physiotherapist or medical doctor may need further evaluation through diagnostic imaging such as MRI, ultrasound or EMG to assess soft tissue or nerve damage.

How is RSI treated?

Repetitive strain injury can be treated with conservative management and lifestyle modifications such as rest and adjustments with your work environment.

Conservative treatment may include:

  • Rest, ice, compression, elevation

  • Oral or topical pain relievers

  • Exercise

  • Mindfulness training and relaxation activities

  • Splinting or bandaging to limit the movement of injured muscles or tendons

  • Steroid injections.

The key in treating RSI is lifestyle and environmental modifications. A physiotherapist can recommend appropriate workplace adjustments to minimise the physical stress in your body when working.

How to prevent RSI?

Practising proper posture and body mechanics are essential in minimising the impact of physical tasks on your body. This allows you to prevent strain in your muscles and tendons.

Here are some of the tips to prevent RSI:

  • Adjust your workstation so you can work comfortably while observing proper posture.

  • Keep your feet flat on the floor and sit on chairs with good low back support.

  • Stand or walk for a few minutes each hour working in front of a computer.

  • Relax your shoulders and elbows when using a computer.

  • Your computer screen should be at eye level and arm’s length away from you.

  • Stretch during your rest period to relieve tension in your muscles.

If your job involves repetitive shoulder movements or bending your back, use proper body mechanics and allow your body to recover. Pain and discomfort are signs that your body needs rest.

Use stools and extension poles to avoid straining your arms and back if you need to reach for objects. A physiotherapist can guide you through exercise strategies and proper body mechanics to prevent occupational injuries.


Recovery from RSI depends on the severity of your symptoms and your overall health status. Conservative treatments and environmental modifications can minimise the stress in your body and relieve the symptoms. However, surgery may be required to treat severe pain and discomfort caused by damage to the nerves and tendons.

Written by Leon Mao
Physiotherapist, University of Melbourne
Published on July 21, 2022
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on July 21, 2022
Medical reviewers
Last medically reviewed on July 21, 2022
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