Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is the general term for the pain caused by repetitive movement and overuse of muscles and tendons. It’s always associated with work, and people whose jobs involve long periods of repetitive movement, like factory/production line workers and – more commonly in London – typists and people using keyboards for extended periods. RSI can affect any part of the body but is most common in forearms, wrists and hands. Symptoms develop gradually, beginning with a dull ache which gets aggravated by a specific repetitive movement. These worsen over time if untreated, and can escalate into severe pain, tenderness and muscle/limb weakness.
The first and best way to treat it is to eliminate the repetitive task! But sadly for most work-related sufferers that is not viable. Your GP will normally prescribe a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs (to reduce swelling and inflammation of the affected area) and painkillers. So where does massage come in? They may also recommend using hot or cold compression packs, strapping/splints, physiotherapy, stretching/yoga and also massage. All these are commonly recommended as ‘second level’ treatments to help with chronic RSI problems.
Massage can help with poor posture (attacking the cause of the RSI) and also directly with the treatment, easing sore tendons and muscles and helping create strong and flexible muscles around the affected joint(s). A Thai massage has the added benefit of including stretches, which can really help relieve the RSI symptoms. The most common RSI that we see is in the forearms and wrists of people who type for long periods without breaks, and who (probably) do not have their desks setup correctly. It’s even more common among the stubborn and ambitious London worker who refuses to take breaks and holidays! (Don’t forget, your employer has a duty to try and prevent work-related RSI and ensure anyone who has RSI does not get any worse.)
Unfortunately massage is unlikely to provide lasting relief from RSI – especially if the repetitive movement is resumed straight afterwards. So our advice would be to: adjust your desk (see here for some information on the best sitting positions), see your GP, have a massage, and start taking regular breaks.
It’s a condition close to our hearts as RSI often affects massage therapists. In her book ‘Save Your Hands’ Lauriann Greene wrote about how RSI forced her out of a career in massage therapy. I can feel a massage coming on!