Symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury include stiffness, pain and swelling in muscles and joints
There are many symptoms associated with RSI, most of which arise from inflammation and damage to the muscles and tendons. Some symptoms can initially go unnoticed, gradually developing and worsening over time. In this page, our muscle and joint expert Earle Logan describes the early symptoms of RSI and suggests when it would be necessary to talk to your doctor.
An introduction to RSI symptoms
RSI arises as a result of inflammation caused by repeated movement of a joint, leading to damage to soft tissues (muscles and tendons). Symptoms usually start without you noticing them – they develop slowly over a period of time and gradually worsen if not attended to.
A detailed understanding of your symptoms can help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis and understand better the root cause of your RSI symptoms.
Initial symptoms of RSI include mild tingling, numbness, ache or stiffness of a joint or area of muscle in your body. These may arise an hour or two after starting a repetitive task or movement such as working at a keyboard.
There may be a feeling of a need or urge, to stretch the affected muscle or joint, especially if an unnatural or uncomfortable position has to be adopted. The affected area may also feel weaker or become tired easily as you continue with the task at hand.
People often do not realise that these early symptoms indicate the initial onset of RSI – they shrug them off and carry on. At this stage, symptoms tend to resolve quickly with rest.
If however, the repetitive task is repeated day after day, symptoms will start earlier and take longer to go away. You may experience aches and pains even when you have been away from the activity for several hours. At this stage you may also develop physical signs such as swelling around the affected area.
Early symptoms of RSI will tend disappear if given some attention or treatment. This might simply involve avoiding or limiting the task causing the problem, making sure you rest the affected joint and if you wish to help things along, applying Arnica gel.
If your problem worsens, symptoms will become more constant – they hang around even after you have given up the repetitive task for good and had lots of rest. Stiffness, pain and tingling could begin to interfere with everyday activities and may even disturb your sleep.
Later symptoms of RSI include an increase in tingling or numbness (particularly in the hands), more constant pain, swelling, stiffness in the joint. These may be severe enough to interfere with even simple tasks such as eating or brushing your teeth.
Your circulation may also be affected, leading to symptoms such as coldness in your hands or the ends of your fingers turning white.
When to go to the doctor
See your doctor for advice if symptoms persist after you have rested the joint, or if symptoms are more or less constant. This is particularly so if tingling or numbness are prominent or if you feel that your circulation is affected.
In addition, seek medical advice if you are worried, or if you feel that symptoms are worsening.
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