Rethinking Repetitive Motion: Understanding Repetitive Strain Injury

Repetitive Strain Injury

Those aches and pains that come from doing repetitive tasks, like typing and playing a sport or instrument, are a form of repetitive strain injury, or RSI, a condition that has grown increasingly common in recent years. This is due to the huge number of repetitive tasks that many of us do daily, whether as part of our jobs, hobbies, or playing sports. They place repeated stress on our muscles, tendons, and joints.

Since many of these tasks involve working with computers or other electronic devices, it’s no surprise that RSI has become a pressing issue in the modern world. Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is caused by repeated use of a body part, such as the shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, or hand – and can lead to chronic pain and discomfort that interferes with quality of life.

Whether it’s typing on a computer, playing an instrument, or any other activity that requires repeating the same motions, these activities place stress on a single muscle group. Anyone who performs repetitive movements can develop his condition. It’s becoming increasingly prevalent as people spend more time working on computers and sitting in one place, rather than moving around during the day.

How Repetitive Strain Injury Develops

As mentioned, repetitive strain injury, or RSI, is a medical condition that results from repetitive actions. Repetitive strain injuries (RSI) are caused by manual labor, office work, and overuse of computers. It occurs when you perform the same action repeatedly in your job or even playing sports.

Repeated actions cause RSI. You’re more at risk for it if you:

  • Type for long periods of time
  • Reach above shoulder level frequently (for example, when doing yard work)
  • Sit at your desk for extended periods of time without moving around.
  • Use vibrating tools.
  • Play an instrument.
  • Lift heavy objects
  • Do hobbies with repetitive motion, such as knitting or crocheting.

There are several types of repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), including:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: a condition that affects the wrist and is characterized by numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and fingers.
  • Tennis Elbow: an overuse injury that causes pain in the outer part of the elbow and arm.
  • Tendinitis: inflammation of the tendons, which can cause pain and discomfort in the affected area.
  • De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis: a condition that affects the tendons in the thumb and wrist, causing pain and difficulty in gripping objects.
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: a condition that affects the neck, shoulder, and arm, causing pain, numbness, and weakness.
  • Trigger Finger: a condition in which one or more fingers get stuck in a bent position, and can be painful when straightening.
  • Golfer’s Elbow: a type of tendinitis that affects the inner part of the elbow and forearm.

What Causes Repetitive Strain Injury?

The causes of RSI, or repetitive strain injury, all relate to the same issue: repeating movements or using the same muscles and joints repeatedly. The best way to prevent injury is to avoid doing these motions. Unfortunately, if you need to do them to make a living, that isn’t an option.

Small Steps You Can Take to Reduce the Risk of RSI

Luckily, there are other ways to combat RSI. Ask any ergonomic expert or physical therapist, and they’ll tell you to take more breaks from repetitive activities. Also, add stretching exercises to your routine. Focus on stretches that target the muscles and joints used in your work.

You can also switch some tools you use on the job or find ergonomic alternatives. If you must stay in one position for a long time, take breaks occasionally, and move around. Sitting with proper posture is also essential for reducing the risk of RSI.

Rather than pecking away at the keyboard for hours or doing another repetitive task, stretch and walk around to lengthen tight muscles and give your tendons and muscles a rest break. If you repeatedly use your fingers, stop, wiggle them and stretch them. Take a few deep breaths and look out the window, too.

Also, ensure you’re using the right tools for the job. If you type at a keyboard, make sure your keyboard is ergonomically friendly.  Look for one with cushioning or a wrist rest, especially if you use it for long periods. Sit in an ergonomically friendly chair if you do activities that require sitting. Keep your feet flat on the floor, avoiding bending your body at odd angles.

Perfect Your Posture

Work on your posture, too. Every activity is safer with good posture. Stretch and strengthening are key to improving your alignment. Strength training improves posture by strengthening the bones, muscles, and other supporting tissues of the body that help stabilize you. Compound lifts and weightlifting exercises can help strengthen the back, shoulder, and core muscles, which are so important for healthy body alignment.

But don’t forget about stretching for your postural muscles. Stretch your chest, back, and shoulder muscles to release tension and improve mobility. Regular physical activity builds strong muscles in the back, neck, and core, which helps support good posture.

Sit up sit straight while using your computer or working on any task that involves prolonged periods of time spent sitting down (such as driving). Sitting incorrectly can cause nerve damage in your neck and shoulders over time, which could lead to pain in those areas later.


RSI is a serious health problem that can cause other issues, like arthritis and chronic pain. Although doing fewer repetitive activities is the best solution, that’s not always practical. Mitigate the risk by taking breaks, working on posture, and using good form.

Listen to your body too. When fatigue and discomfort begin to set in, take a break. Additionally, ergonomic solutions, such as adjustable workstations or chairs, can ease the unnecessary strain on your body. Taking preventive measures to avoid RSI will help you avoid adding stress and strain on your body.


  • “Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI): Causes, Prevention, and More – Healthline.” healthline.com/health/repetitive-strain-injury.
  • Helliwell, P. S., & Taylor, W. J. (2004, August). Repetitive strain injury. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 80(946), 438-443. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1743087/pdf/v080p00438.pdf
  • Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI): Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. Published 2022. Accessed February 5, 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17424-repetitive-strain-injury
  • “Effects of Repetitive Strain/Stress Injury on the Human Body.” .academia.edu/89358123/Effects_of_Repetitive_Strain_Stress_Injury_on_the_Human_Body.
  • “Repetitive strain injury (RSI) – NHS.” nhs.uk/conditions/repetitive-strain-injury-rsi/.
  • Kim D, Cho M, Park Y, Yang Y. Effect of an exercise program for posture correction on musculoskeletal pain. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Jun;27(6):1791-4. doi: 10.1589/jpts.27.1791. Epub 2015 Jun 30. PMID: 26180322; PMCID: PMC4499985.
  • The Cost of Repetitive Stress Injuries | Medical Positioning. Medical Positioning. Published March 2019. Accessed February 5, 2023. https://medicalpositioning.com/articles/the-cost-of-repetitive-stress-injuries-medical-positioning/

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