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Repetitive Stress Injury of the Wrist and Hands

With the amount of time we spend with our wrists and hands on our smartphones, computers, pads, desks, and games it is no surprise that Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) rates are steadily increasing. RSI is a condition in which pain and related symptoms arise in areas of the body that do repetitive tasks, as hands often do. At Canberra Spine Centre we have noticed an increase in patients with RSI and have developed a whole-body approach to treating it.

What is RSI?

The term repetitive strain injury is a catchall term used to name a variety of painful conditions of soft tissue, muscles and tendons. The most common RSI is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), but there are many other kinds of RSI including tendonitis and stenosing tenosynovitis. All RSI issues need to be addressed as soon as they are noticed to prevent further pain and damage. 

RSI is generally caused by using specific parts of the body in repetitive ways. For wrists and hands this could mean using a track-pad, typing, using a computer mouse, or excessive use of a smartphone. Recent research also point to workplace factors, primarily stress, as contributors to RSI. Some researchers theorize that stress both increases muscular tension and affects how the body processes feelings of pain.

Unlike normal strains following specific injuries, RSI symptoms tend to persist for a long time after onset, partially because the symptoms are related to activities that cannot be halted, such as work. Because our hands are used so often in our work and play, they are one of the primary sites on the body that suffer from RSI.

Unfortunately, there is no specific test that doctors can perform to diagnose RSI. Pain in affected areas, such as the hand, are common and can result from many causes.

Symptoms of RSI in your Hand

Symptoms can include (but are not limited to):

  • Tightness
  • Restricted movement
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Throbbing
  • Dull ache
  • Pain

Symptoms tend to have a gradual onset, initially only occurring while you are doing the repetitive task. With continued aggravation the symptoms can become present at all times and become even worse when performing the repetitive task.

Who Gets RSI?

Almost anyone can get RSI of the wrist and hands as it is has a wide variety of causes including repetitive work or play, poor posture, regular or intense force, a bad work environment, or performing tasks for long periods of time without taking a break. RSI has a long history, first having been described in the 1700s by an Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini who described some 20 different types of RSI.

The exact reason that repetitive actions cause RSI is not agreed upon as it often does not have any overt symptoms such as inflammation, swelling, or any other obvious muscle or tendon problems. It is also not clear why some people develop RSI and other people who do the exact same repetitive tasks do not. And yet, it is clear that RSI does develop and experts estimate that RSI increased nearly 25% from 2000 to 2011. A survey by Mentholatum found over one-fifth of all adults have suffered from RSI1.

Experts agree that RSI has the potential to lead to permanent or crippling disorder, so it should be addressed as soon as it is noted. Even better, if someone experiences any of the factors that can cause RSI they should reduce the possibility of getting it with a holistic program of exercise, prevention, and overall good body health such as is recommended by the Canberra Spine Centre.

How Chiropractic Can Help

The Canberra Spine Centre offers a complete prevention, treatment and care package for patients with repetitive strain injuries of the wrist and hands, or other parts of the body. We know that these injuries are both painful and inconvenient and we are committed to helping you get through them.

When managing an extremity (an area away from the spine, such as the wrist and hand) condition, neither just working on the spine nor just on the extremity itself will lead to full resolution of the problem. At Canberra Spine Centre, we find that by taking a holistic approach, and looking at both ends of the problem, we can provide a more effective treatment. Firstly, we look to restore proper motion to the spine and nervous system – not only the nerves controlling the wrist and hand, but also those of the rest of the body. We want your whole body working well, not just your wrist and hand – that way you have you best chance of healing. Proper nerve supply to the wrist and hand will allow the proper motor control and blood supply to the area to prevent injury and allow for better healing. Local treatment of the wrist and hand may involve joint manipulation to restore proper motion, soft tissue techniques to restore muscle function, as well as appropriate rehabilitation exercises to speed recovery.

Patients generally notice positive changes within the first few sessions. Importantly, we also recommend lifestyle changes that support the healing process. These changes may be mechanical, such as maintaining a better posture or working in ways that do not stress joints. They may include lifestyle recommendations intended to add breaks to your day or release your stress. Our aim is to combine targeted chiropractic treatment with a variety of other treatments and techniques to allow healing to occur in the wrists and hands.

Prevention of RSI and any soft-tissue damage is a lot easier than treating it. Here at Canberra Spine Centre we recommend a complete-body approach based on good nutrition, healthy physical habits, and regular visits to maintain generally good health. If you feel pain, numbness, or aching in any area of your hands and wrists, you should make an appointment at the Canberra Spine Centre as soon as you can. The earlier you begin the road to recovery, the sooner you will return to optimum health.

If RSI related pain brings you to the Canberra Spine Centre, our team will build a detailed history of your health and give you a full consultation including a spinal examination, a posture examination, a neurological examination, and an orthopaedic screening. X-rays will be taken if necessary and you will receive a full report of our findings at your second visit.

If we discover your wrist or hands have RSI we will work with you to develop a complete program optimised for your home and work environment and individual needs. Among our many effective treatments are chiropractic adjustment, lifestyle recommendations, therapeutic massage, strengthening and stretching exercises, improved ergonomics, and physical therapy.


1) Do you have RSI? Check the signs and symptoms of repetitive strain injury.