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Treating Repetitive Stress Injuries on the Job with Physical Therapy

Treating Repetitive Stress Injuries on the Job with Physical Therapy

Whether your job involves physical labor or sitting at a computer, you are potentially at risk for a Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI). Some of these injuries can be temporary, but left untreated they can become debilitating. Awareness is the first step, and prompt physical therapy can curb the injury to ensure your recovery.

What is a Repetitive Stress Injury?

It is an injury that affects the soft tissues of the muscles, tendons, and nerves. Through the repetitive use of these structures, pain and inflammation can occur. Although it can affect any body part, it is most commonly seen in the upper body such as hands, wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders and the neck. Common RSI injuries include tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, trigger finger, and thoracic outlet syndrome.

Symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injury

Symptoms can be mild to severe, and include:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Stiffness
  • Throbbing sensation
  • Aching
  • Weakness
  • Cramping
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Swelling

Symptoms tend to come on gradually and can be overlooked. It is important to seek treatment at the start of any discomfort to prevent further injury. If you notice any pain or discomfort with a specific movement, take action. Don’t wait until that pain extends beyond periods of working to periods of rest.

Causes of Repetitive Stress Injury

Repetitive or extended actions while on the job put you at risk for a stress injury. From cutting hair to working a register, it’s important to pay attention to what you do on a daily basis. You’ll likely notice there are many repetitive motions that you perform without even realizing it. While anyone can be affected, some common jobs that see RSI include office work (computers, mobile device handling), construction workers, cashiers, factory workers, healthcare workers, hairdressers, drivers, dancers. Whatever your job may be, here are some common causes for repetitive stress injuries:

  • Repetitive actions/motions
  • Extended or intense periods of work with little resting in between
  • Operation of vibrating machines
  • Poor posture
  • Activities requiring awkward positioning
  • Stress

Treatment for Repetitive Stress Injuries

The severity of your injury or pain should be assessed first by your doctor. Common treatment includes pain relief through non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, the use of ice or heat to affected areas, and splinting. Physical therapy is recommended to help strengthen and relax muscles and prevent further injuries. The good news is, there is much you can do when it comes to preventing RSI. Listed below are some common exercises and stretches used for RSI as well as some practical things you can do for yourself:

Stretching Exercises 

  • Neck Stretch

    • In a standing or sitting position, drop your left ear to your left shoulder. You may use your left hand to rest on your head and assist in the stretch.
    • Take a deep breath and hold the stretch. Breathe in deeply a few times allowing the stretch to reach further.
    • Repeat 2-3 times before moving on to the right side. 
  • Forearm Stretch

    • In a standing position hold both arms straight out in front of you with shoulders relaxed.
    • In this position with your hands facing each other, fold your thumbs down first and then fold the rest of the fingers over to form a fist.
    • Beginning at the wrist, angle your fists in a downward position. You should feel a stretch in your wrist and forearm area.
    • Hold this stretch for 8-10 seconds and repeat 5 times
  • Wrist Stretch

    • In a sitting or standing position hold your left arm straight out in front of you with your shoulders relaxed.
    • Bend your fingers so they are pointing to the right.
    • Now bend your wrist so your fingers are now pointing toward your chest.
    • With your right hand, assist and deepen the stretch. Hold for 8-10 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.
  • Shoulder Shrugs

    • Begin in a standing or sitting position looking straight ahead with shoulders relaxed and arms down at your sides.
    • Shrug your shoulders upward toward your ears and slowly roll them backward, and back to the starting position.
    • Repeat 5 times.

Adjust your Work Environment

Since RSI’s are generally a work-related injury, assessing your work environment is an important first step. If you are unable to stop the activity that is causing you discomfort, here are some other suggestions:

  • Limit the length of time spent doing the activity
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Adjust the way you perform the activity
  • Consult with your Employer about modifying your job tasks
  • Practice good posture
  • Make ergonomic choices with sitting and computer usage

Additional Exercise

Low impact exercises such as walking, swimming, Pilates, or yoga can have a good overall effect on strength and stamina. Incorporating one or more of these activities into your weekly schedule can reduce injury as well.


Repetitive Stress Injuries don’t have to be debilitating. With proper preventative care and physical therapy exercises, it can be avoided. Even if the injury has already occurred, taking steps to adjust your work environment and activities, following up with your doctor, and following a specific physical therapy plan, you can successfully recover! Blue Hills Sports and Spine Rehabilitation has qualified physical therapists who can work with you and your specific needs. Don’t wait for a little discomfort to become a big pain, give us a call and get started now.