Occupational Overuse Syndrome (or RSI) and how Your Health Domain Physiotherapists can help

Occupational Overuse Syndrome (or RSI) and how Your Health Domain Physiotherapists can help



Claire Shield – Senior Physiotherapist


How common is repetitive strain injury?

The term Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a very general term – other terms used include Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) or Work-related Upper Limb disorder (WRULD). Generally these terms all relate to overuse injuries, now usually called an overuse injury, and they occur from repeated use of the same movements causing inflammation and damage to the soft tissues, particularly if they are performed at the end of range of your available movements i.e. end of range forearm pronation for mouse work. Overuse injuries for office workers typically present in the upper limb: shoulder, elbow, wrist or hand, due to the repetitive nature of typing or using the computer mouse. They may progress to more diffuse areas including the neck or back, and if not treated early on, may turn into chronic conditions. Approximately 1 in 50 office workers will suffer from an overuse injury.


When should you seek treatment for RSI?

Straight away! The first symptoms may be localised pain, tingling, swelling or discomfort during or after a task at work or home. You may feel fatigued, weak or experience neurological have changes in sensation such as feeling coldness in your hand. Seeking professional help from your Physiotherapist will allow the injury to be assessed and get you started on a treatment plan. Your symptoms may disappear when you stop the aggravating factor, but will easily represent when you commence the task again.


What parts of the body are most often affected?

Overuse injuries can happen in any workplace, and as most of us will be using our upper limbs – shoulder, forearms, wrists, all day as part of our work: desk worker, hairdresser, truck driver, sales assistant. An overuse injury will typically affect the upper limb, mainly the shoulder, elbow and forearm and it is usually the tendons, nerve endings and muscles that are most affected.


What treatments do you recommend?

In the initial acute stages, Physiotherapists will aim at reducing the pain caused by muscle spasm, weakness and tightness by using massage, joint mobilizations, and correcting your posture or position with corrective taping or braces, and commencing you on a program of stretches and muscle strengthening exercises.

Fixing the cause of the problem is integral. Assessing your work station, or having a look at how you use your body to perform a task is also an essential part of what our Physiotherapists regularly assess at Your Health Domain.





How likely is recovery?

Overuse injuries are relatively easy to identify and treat when they are in the acute stages. Most people will recover fully and be able to return to their job.


What tips can you recommend for recovery?

See your Physiotherapist as soon as you can.

You may need treatment over several weeks (or months) to fix the problem, so commit yourself to this.

Ignoring the pain or “working through the pain” will not work. Your body is telling you that something is wrong and needs to be changed.

Recovery is not just getting rid of the pain – it’s about strengthening the weak muscles and getting your body back to performing the task with ease.

Take regular breaks to give your working muscles and joints a rest.


What tips do you recommend for prevention?


”Prevention is always better than cure”


  • Involve yourself in regular exercise. Keeping your muscles strong and your joints flexible will reduce the risk of injury.
  • Get a health professional to assess your work station or how you perform a task. They can make changes to suit your body, or even give you exercises to perform the task more efficiently.
  • Try a standing work station – standing desks are becoming increasingly popular and allow your spine to adapt a more natural position.
  • Alternating your tasks allows you to move your body and change your posture.
  • Schedule regular breaks: why not get a group of colleagues together and go for a walk?


How common is relapse and why?

Relapses are not that common but certainly occur and are certainly avoidable. We often return to a task when we are pain free, but the cause has not been fixed. Your muscles may still be weak, or your sitting posture has not been assessed or adjusted. And there are often multiple external causes such as lack of job variation, long hours, and stress at work.


Risk of relapse is closely correlated to the intensity of the initial injury and the treatment received.


Long-term – maintaining a good level of cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, staying in the healthy weight-range, participating in regular exercise, attending training sessions provided by your employer in regards to correct use of workplace equipment, varying your activity throughout the day and by taking regular breaks from repetitive tasks, you should be able to reduce your risk of injury.


We have great tips on our website about prevention www.yourhealthdomain.com.au


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