What is RSI / WRULD and how can they be treated?

Repetitive Strain Injury, commonly referred to as RSI is a condition that falls under Work Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULD). Musculoskeletal complaints relating to these conditions can affect both sport and non-sporting people – Therapists at Newcastle Sports Injury Clinic are regularly asked to assess and treat RSI / WRULD.

Although not limited to upper body, RSI or WRULD injuries do tend to affect it more commonly. In fact, there are thought to be upwards of half a million sufferers of ‘upper limb’ RSI in the UK alone, causing pain, discomfort, loss of quality of life, and, for employers and employees alike, lost productivity.

RSI is actually a generic umbrella term that refers to a broad group of injuries, where tendons, ligaments, muscles or nerves are damaged by repetitive movements. The likes of which include:

  • Tendinopathy (Tendonitis)
  • Tenosynovitis
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Golfers Elbow
  • Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
  • Bursitis
  • Dupuytren’s Contracture

Associated symptoms can be felt in muscles, nerves and tendons which can range from mild to severe and usually develop gradually. They often include:

  • pain, aching or tenderness
  • stiffness
  • throbbing
  • tingling or pins and needles
  • numbness
  • weakness
  • swelling
  • redness
  • skin changes
  • cramp

At first, sufferers might only notice symptoms when they’re carrying out a particular repetitive action, but eventually, the pain and restricted movement can become more commonplace and affect other areas of your life.

What causes RSI?

Repetitive Strain Injuries are caused by continuous repetitive movements that can over time cause injury, which can manifest itself as pain and/or reduced function.  What is important to understand is that these injuries can be caused by the smallest of movements – you don’t need to spend your life chopping down trees to develop serious limb pain.

For example, think about clicking a mouse button or playing the guitar involve very fine movements, but when they are repeated over and over again, the muscles and tendons in the hand and wrist fatigue, leading to injury.

What causes WRULD?

WRULD’s can occur when the worker adopts poor static postures, uses uncomfortable hand grips or exerts undesirable forces when completing tasks, coupled with continuous repetitive work and insufficient rest or recovery can lead to muscle, nerve, tendon or ligament injuries.


Common causes of RSI / WRULD include:

  • working at a poorly set-up workstation
  • using vibrating equipment
  • poor posture
  • using incorrect equipment or equipment that is too heavy for the user
  • gripping for a long time
  • tasks of an intricate nature with minute detail
  • using the incorrect techniques for the task
  • completing tasks too fast or with too much force or pressure
  • repeating the same task over and over again will little to no rest time


Which jobs can cause RSI/WRULD?

Simply put, almost every profession puts you at risk of RSI – from accountants to physiotherapists! The fact is, most professions include some sort of repetitive movement, meaning many people are susceptible to RSI / WRULD’s.

RSI / WRULD can also be caused by activities carried out outside of work, hobbies that include repetitive actions such as woodwork, fishing or needlecraft, can leave a person susceptible to injury.

Can you treat RSI / WRULD with painkillers?

It is possible to alleviate the symptoms with anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, it is advised that the advice of a medical professional is sought before taking medication, but these should never be seen as a long-term fix. They will mask the symptoms but not fix the cause.

Without the correct treatment, advice and strengthening exercises provided by a professional, the symptoms of RSI may eventually become constant and cause longer periods of pain.  If ignored these conditions can cause long-term disability.

RSI / WRULD at your desk

Desk work is one of the most common causes of Repetitive Strain Injuries – and can be made much worse if posture and desk layout are incorrect.

Reaching for a mouse is a fairly unnatural position for our arms to be in, especially if our desk and/or chair are not set at the correct height, and the mouse is in the wrong position.

There are plenty of online guides that show the best way to sit at your desk, and factors such as mouse use, monitor height and position, keyboard location, as well as chair positioning, can all have an effect.

However, you shouldn’t guess at the correct way to make adjustments – small changes could make things worse, or simply cause injury to a different part of your body. Speak to a specialist who can provide a workstation assessment and give advice on the best way for you to set up your desk based on your job requirements, build and height.

Smartphone-related RSI

This is a growing phenomenon as smartphones have increasingly become an integral part of our lives. Using our thumbs to navigate our touchscreen devices might not seem like it could cause an injury, but we are seeing more and more people suffering from injuries that have been caused, or exacerbated, by smartphone use.

Just by holding your hand, arm, shoulder, neck and head in a slightly different way for prolonged periods of time can contribute to long-term injuries.

Can you still take legal action for RSI / WRULD?

For many years, RSI was synonymous with personal injury claims against employers. However, there have been a lot of changes to the personal injury sector over the past decade and now fewer and fewer lawyers are now prepared to take these cases on.

How can you cure RSI / WRULD?

Yes – most injuries that are caused can be rectified with the right intervention. However, depending on what structure is affected by the repetitive strain injury determines how we correct it long term. Muscles, tendons and nerves all heal in different ways and need individualised treatment.

By seeking professional advice and help, it will not only assist in alleviating pain and discomfort but will also give a long-term plan to correct the underlying issue. Sometimes, this may include advice on working positions, postural advice and strengthening exercises to rehabilitate the root cause.