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Shoulder Pain and Repetitive Strain Injury

What is Repetitive Strain Injury?

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a set of injuries caused due to prolonged use of the same parts of the body in the same way.

As mentioned in an earlier article, most parts of the body are not built for this sort of repetitive use.

For example, if you're fit, you can walk all day using your legs repeatedly in the same way for hours on end and not face any problem.

This is because your legs were meant to do this. The hip joint, and the knee joint, are the strongest synovial joints in the body.

However, if you take the delicate finger joints, they were not built for the constant use of the keyboard or mouse.

And so, they experience wear and tear, in far greater proportion to the rest of the body.

Fortunately for us, this wear and tear does not happen 'under the covers'. Our body can repair itself, and when it can't keep up, it alerts us using pain.

Wear and tear to parts of the body caused due to overuse, is called Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). It is known by other names such as Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD), occupational overuse syndrome, but RSI is the most common term.

Repetitive Strain Injury and Posture

Apart from repeated movement, RSI also includes injury from poor posture. This is because of two reasons.

Firstly, poor posture is a problem only when it is habitual, and hence 'repetitive' in that regard. And secondly, certain actions cause injury only when the posture is poor.

Those at greatest Risk.

Predictably, people who are at greatest risk of RSI, are those whose occupation requires prolonged, and repeated movement of the same body parts, or requires people to indulge in poor posture.

Common sense dictates that these will include assembly line workers, computer professionals, and sports persons, whose sports requires unusual and repeated movements like in Tennis.

Note that, sports like Table Tennis do not face this problem, since the movements that comprise table tennis are natural, and do not typically require the racket to be held in an unnatural way, or particularly firmly.

Also at risk, are musicians, where the instrument is required to be held or played in a way that is detrimental to the body part in question. These include guitarists, violinists, and piano players.

It is worthwhile to note that professional pianists are taught early in life, how to maintain correct posture while playing.

This is a significant reason for piano players being less subject to RSI than players or other instruments.

These injuries rarely occur with hobbyists pursuing an activity that involves the computer, or music. This is because they can just quit if there is pain, unlike those who are forced to continue, if it is their occupation.

Types of RSI

The field of RSI is relatively new, due to the recent proliferation of computers. Current theory suggests that there are two types of RSI.

Type I RSI

Type I RSI, relates to injuries that can be physically demonstrated such as swelling, or joint displacement.


Type II RSI, or 'Diffuse RSI', is thought to be related to nerve afflictions, and diagnosis is extremely difficult. It is however, most often found in people who have work related problems.

In other articles, we will be discussing specific occupations that lead to RSI, as different activities lead to different types of Injuries, and require separate treatment.

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