Upper limb overuse injuries – RSI

14 Jan 2015


  • Compensation
  • Personal Injury

Occupational overuse syndrome, also known as repetitive strain injury (RSI), is a type of injury common to fingers, hands, wrists and elbows. It is caused by repetitive movements or awkward postures. Professions that require the regular repetitive movement of the arms, wrists, hands or fingers have an increased risk of employees developing an overuse injury.

Different types of overuse injuries of the upper limb

Tenosynovitis: this condition affects the tendons in the arms, specifically the sheath that surrounds the tendons. The repetitive motion of a physical activity often brings about or exacerbates the condition. It is a common condition, particularly amongst middle aged people, and it is prevalent in women.

Tennis elbow: this is a condition caused by overuse of arm, forearm, and hand muscles resulting in elbow pain. You don’t have to play tennis to get the condition. It is a difficult diagnosis to establish and some of the differential diagnoses include radial tunnel syndrome, cervical spondylosis with brachialgia, triceps tendinitis and rotary instability. The affected muscle has a very small origin at the tip of the elbow but has significant control over the movement of the wrist and hand.

Carpal tunnel syndrome: a painful disorder of the hand caused by pressure on the nerves that run through the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a channel in the palm side of the wrist. The carpal tunnel surrounds the tendons used to bend the fingers and wrist; and also the median nerve which controls the thumb.

Diagnosis and treatment of overuse injuries

Typically RSI is difficult to diagnose because there are many differing opinions on the condition. In the past it has often been thought that the pain was all in the patient’s mind. Furthermore, once an injury was diagnosed as RSI medical practitioners often did not want to treat the patient.

In order to diagnose RSI it is necessary to exclude recognisable diseases and try to find the cause of the pain. Psychological factors are also considered as it is not uncommon for suffers of RSI to develop anxiety and depression, although it is often secondary to RSI. A common example is where the patient is struggling to keep up with work load because of the pain while colleagues and managers think the worker is lying or being lazy. In addition there may be stress in the family unit because the patient is unable to complete the usual domestic tasks.

Treating RSI involves a modification of activities to relieve stress on the over used body part. A workplace assessment should take place. Employers should recognise that ‘not everyone can run a 4 minute mile’ and individuals should work at a pace at which they can function effectively without causing injury.

Workers compensation

If an employee develops RSI in the workplace, the condition should be accepted by workers compensation. Unfortunately, it is a difficult diagnosis and workers may be faced with denied claims. If you have developed RSI in the workplace and your workers’ compensation claim has been denied, you should contact the personal injury team at Snedden Hall & Gallop.