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An Intro to Repetitive Stress Injuries

What is a Repetitive Stress Injury?

Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) — also called repetitive motion injuries — are temporary or permanent soft tissue injuries to muscles, ligaments and tendons and are usually associated with performing a particular motion or activity over and over again, over prolonged periods of time.

Symptoms of RSI

RSIs commonly occur in the upper parts of the body, such as the forearms, elbows, wrists, hands, neck and shoulders. Their symptoms usually present as a slight nagging pain one of the above-mentioned extremities, but they can gradually develop to more severe aches, including:

  • Cramps
  • Numbness
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Tingling
  • Throbbing

Certain aches may also be symptoms of other stress-related issues and can lead to other conditions, such as bursitis, tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. These are all very common stress-related injuries. If you’re experiencing pain, discuss it with your healthcare provider. He or she will be able to determine if your symptoms are an indication of these conditions.

Risk factors for repetitive stress injuries

Although RSIs can develop among any individual regardless of age or gender, there are risk factors associated with RSIs that could increase the risk of injury:

  • Participating in rigorous, high-impact physical activities and sports, such as tennis, skiing, golf, baseball and softball
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Having a preexisting trauma or a medical condition, such as arthritis or diabetes
  • Poor posture and body mechanics
  • Excessive force, overuse or misuse of joints
  • Stress, which can manifest as a physical complication
  • Pregnancy
  • Occupations that involve frequent repetitive movements
  • Performing a high volume of activity in a short period of time


The first key to treating an RSI is to identify the activity or movement that’s potentially causing the injury. The time it takes to recover from an RSI depends on the severity of the injury, but most individuals with RSIs make a full recovery and can avoid risk of re-injury by making changes, such as:

  • Limiting certain postures or activities
  • Altering the way they perform repetitive movements
  • Performing stretching exercises and strengthening exercises

If modifications aren’t working and the symptoms persist, make an appointment with your primary care provider. He or she will be able to suggest additional changes to mitigate injuries or they may be able to offer prescription anti-inflammatory medications to help you manage your pain.

Learn more about repetitive stress injuries and other topics online in the Health Library at tanner.org.

Request an appointment for a consultation with an orthopedic specialist online at TannerOrtho.org or call 770-214-CARE.

Orthopedic and Spine Care

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