Repetitive strain injury

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Repetitive strain injury causes pain following repeated similar movements like typing, decorating, hairdressing or playing tennis. Read on to find out how to recognise it and how you can help your symptoms.

What is a repetitive strain injury?

Repetitive strain injury is any damage to muscles, tendons, nerves, or ligaments caused by similar repeated movements. Repetitive strain injury isn’t a specific injury but instead refers to any injury caused by repeated movements.

Examples of common repetitive strain injuries are:

  • Tendonitis

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Cubital tunnel syndrome

  • Golfer’s and tennis elbow

  • Trigger finger

Repetitive strain injury is very common.

What are the symptoms of a repetitive strain injury?

It can occur in any part of your body, but repetitive strain injury is most common in your:

  • Hands, fingers, and thumbs

  • Forearms and wrists

  • Elbows

  • Shoulders

Symptoms usually start slowly and can include:

  • Pain that can feel like burning, throbbing, or aching

  • Tingling, numbness, or pins and needles

  • Muscle cramps

  • Swelling

  • Stiffness

  • Weakness

What causes repetitive strain injury?

The repeated use of a body part causes stress to the area. This could be at work or when playing sport.

You can get repetitive strain injury by:

  • Spending long periods on your phone or typing repeatedly on the keypad with your thumb

  • Doing repetitive movements such as hairdressing, decorating, working on an assembly line, or typing

  • Using computers for long periods of time without appropriate positioning

  • Playing sports that involve repetitive movements like tennis or golf

  • Using power tools

  • Having poor posture when sitting or standing

Repetitive movements do not always cause an injury. You can do the same job for years and experience no issues.

How is a repetitive strain injury diagnosed?

Repetitive strain injury is diagnosed by a doctor who will ask you questions about your injury and look at the movements of your joint. If a doctor thinks your injury is more serious, they may send you for further scans and tests, such as an x-ray.

How are repetitive strain injuries treated?

Most repetitive strain injuries will get better with self-help treatment. This could include:

  • Avoid the activity that is causing the repetitive strain

  • Keeping active and gradually increasing the amount of exercise you do on the affected joint

  • Taking painkillers such as paracetamol or an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen

  • Using hot or cold packs

  • Speaking to your employer about ways you can modify work to help your symptoms

  • Avoiding resting the joint for too long as it can become weaker and stiff

  • Improving your posture

If your injury is severe or doesn’t improve, you may need further treatment. This might include:

  • Physiotherapy, which can show you exercises to help strengthen your muscles

  • Steroid injections, which can reduce your pain and inflammation

  • For certain underlying causes, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, you may be offered surgery

How long does repetitive strain injury last?

Repetitive strain injury is rarely permanent and usually gets better on its own.

Depending on the severity, your symptoms may resolve within a few weeks to 6 months.

When should I speak to a doctor?

For most cases of repetitive strain injury you won’t need to be seen by a doctor. If your symptoms get worse or don’t improve after a few weeks you should see a doctor.

How can Livi help?

A Livi healthcare professional can discuss your symptoms and ways to potentially avoid the activity that may be causing it. They can refer you for potential investigation or further support if the symptoms are ongoing and can not be dealt with lifestyle advice alone.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi