Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) - Wrist Treatment and Prevention


Woman holding her wrist in pain from an RSI while seated at a workstation.

Our wrists and hands are some of the hardest working parts of our body. We rely on them for basic daily living and complex tasks. Sometimes, the wrist is overused and repeats the same movements. This can lead to a repetitive strain injury (RSI) or a case of occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) caused by inflammation and damage to the soft tissue resulting in pain. RSIs are often thought to be the same as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, though the two are completely different.

RSI Wrist Symptoms

One early sign of a repetitive strain injury may be discomfort or tingling. The signs may disappear after you stop the aggravating activity, or it might take a couple of days. However, over time the minor discomfort can turn into a long-lasting chronic injury.

The most common symptoms of an RSI in the wrist include:

  • Aching, burning or shooting pain.

  • Lack of strength with the inability to do simple, everyday tasks.

  • Cold hands, particularly the tips of the fingers.

  • Numbness.

  • Shaking and clumsy movements.

RSI Treatment for Wrist

Repetitive strain injuries can continue long-term with or without treatment.

Anti-inflammatories can reduce the symptoms of an RSI. For those people who don’t find relief with medication, they may need a steroid injection. The injections are most likely to be used in cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Over the counter pain medication, such as paracetamol, can provide relief for some injuries. 

Physiotherapy, osteopathy and massage therapy are all used to improve injured wrists. Some people use complementary therapies such as yoga, acupuncture and the Alexander technique to find relief. More research is needed to establish if they’re effective forms of treatment.

Surgery is a last resort when other treatments haven’t worked. A surgeon can repair nerve and tendon damage for those suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome or Dupuytren’s contracture.

Preventing Wrist Injuries

Like most injuries, prevention is better than a cure. Once you have an RSI, it can be hard to treat and symptoms can stay with you long-term.

Complete Wrist Exercises

Before engaging in repetitive movements, it’s best to warm up the body parts that will be impacted. Stretching and strengthening the hands and wrists can help keep RSIs away and alleviate symptoms for those who already have an RSI. Here are 5 hand and wrist exercises to try.

Take Regular Breaks

Sitting at your desk and typing for hours is a recipe for repetitive strain on your arms, wrists and hands. Get up and walk away from your desk regularly to give your wrists a break. Stretch your neck, shoulders, wrists and fingers while taking a break so they aren’t in the same position.

Check Your Posture

Posture matters while you’re doing repetitive work. If you’re sitting at a desk, your arms should be bent to 90 degrees and the desk should be set to the height of your forearms. When using your keyboard, try to keep the wrists in a neutral position. Hands should be parallel to each other and not angled inwards or outwards. When angled, you’re forcing one side of your elbow and wrist to work harder than the other which can cause pain and injury.

Don’t rest your wrists on the keyboard, or on the edge of the keyboard or desk, as this causes your hand to type in an unnatural position. You want to keep your wrist and hand at a neutral angle as if they were hanging by your side. You may need to upgrade to an ergonomic keyboard and ergonomic mouse to allow your wrist to stay in a natural position.     

If you’re using a standing desk, the height of the desk should be set so your elbows are bent to 90 degrees and your hands are in a neutral position while typing.

Try and Stay Warm

When you’re cold, pain and stiffness are worse than when you’re warm. If the air conditioning is a problem in your office, try to move to a spot that is warmer or wear more clothing. If your hands are cold, keep stretching throughout the day and even consider wearing gloves with no fingers to help keep your hands and wrists warm.

Mix Up Your Daily Tasks

If you spend about half the day typing, plan your day so you don’t do it all in one block. It might seem productive to get one task completed in a half day block, but it’s counterproductive if the repetitive task leads to an injury. Separate your repetitive tasks with other daily jobs that don’t require you to use the same body parts. One hour of typing four times per day will be far less stress on your hands and wrists than one four hour block.

If you’re concerned that you’re at risk of an RSI or you are showing early signs, consider having an ergonomic assessment to see if there are simple changes you can make to reduce the risks.

If you need help with finding the right ergonomic office equipment, Ergolink can help. We work with occupational therapists every day - supplying ergonomic equipment and support. Call us on 9240 7066 or contact us online.