How to treat your mouse arm disease, gamers thumb and other repetitive strain injuries

What do gamers thumb, Blackberry thumb, iPod finger, mouse arm disease, PlayStation thumb, and Rubik's wrist all have in common?

Well they are all terms used to describe various Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI’s).  Repetitive Strain Injury is an umbrella term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse. The condition mostly affects parts of the upper body, such as the forearm, elbow, wrist, hands, shoulders and neck.

A general worldwide increase in RSI’s since the 1970’s has been attributed to the widespread use in the workplace of computers, which require long periods of repetitive motions in a fixed posture.

Causes of RSI

Certain things are thought to increase the risk of RSI, including:

  • repetitive activities
  • doing a high-intensity activity for a long time without rest
  • poor posture or activities that require you to work in an awkward position

Symptoms of RSI

The symptoms of RSI can range from mild to severe and usually develop gradually. They often include:

  • pain, aching or tenderness
  • stiffness
  • throbbing
  • tingling or numbness
  • weakness
  • cramp
  • loss of strength

At first, you might only notice symptoms when you're carrying out a particular repetitive action.  However without treatment, the symptoms of RSI may eventually worsen with more pain and swelling. The first step in treating RSI is usually to identify and modify the task or activity that is causing the symptoms. If necessary, you may need to stop doing the activity altogether.

Treatment

There are no quick fixes for RSI. Early diagnosis is critical to limiting damage.  Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) is usually recommended immediately after an injury happens and for the first 24 to 48 hours afterwards. This can help reduce the swelling and pain. 

Types of treatment that are commonly used include:

  • Taking anti-inflammatory medication
  • Applying heat or ice packs
  • Wearing Supports/Braces such as the Incrediwear wrist sleeve, gloves, shoulder brace, elbow sleeve or arm sleeve
  • Physical therapy
  • Steroid injections

Prevention

It can be difficult to prevent an RSI from developing or worsening if the cause is work-related as the main way to reduce the risk is to stop or reduce the activity.  However, it can help to:

  • Take breaks: An alarm can act as a reminder to take short breaks.
  • Stand up: Standing up and stretching frequently can help. Extend the back, arms, and fingers.
  • Posture: Keep the ears and back in a straight line with the pelvis to avoid slouching
  • Typing: Keep the arms, wrists and fingers aligned when typing and avoid hitting the keys too hard
  • Your mouse: Do not grip too tightly and slow your speed to reduce muscle tension in your hand. Use keyboard shortcuts instead of using the mouse.
  • Ergonomics: Ensure that the desk, chair and screen are aligned in an ergonomic fashion. Employers will have access to official guidelines.
  • Telephone: Wearing a headset while typing is better than clamping the receiver between the head and the shoulder.