Causes of RSI
Causes of repetitive strain injuries

There are numerous reasons why a repetitive strain injury incidence may manifest itself, both physical and mental.

On this page we will firstly list the general causes of repetitive strain injuries as a whole and secondly we will break down the causes of repetitive strain injuries on a per category of injury basis.

General causes of repetitive strain injuries

A non-exhaustive list of contributory factors towards the emergence of repetitive strain injuries is as follows –

  • An overuse of the muscles on a continued repetitive basis
  • Cold temperatures
  • Vibrating equipment
  • Forceful activities
  • Poor posture or a badly organised work area that is not ergonomically sound
  • Holding the same posture on a continuous basis
  • Prolonged periods of work without a break
  • Stress has been proven to increase the incidence of repetitive strain injuries
  • Direct pressure or a blow to the body
  • Carrying heavy loads on a repeated basis
  • Fatigue

Specific causes of repetitive strain injuries

Each type of RSI will be caused by the breakdown in a specific bodily function, which has been caused by one (or many) of the factors that have been listed above. We will look in greater depth as to the reason why the following types of repetitive strain injuries are caused.

  • Bursitis
  • Cubital tunnel syndrome
  • DeQuervain's syndrome
  • Diffuse RSI
  • Dupuytren's contracture
  • Dystonia (writers cramp)
  • Epicondylitis
  • Gamekeeper's thumb
  • Ganglion
  • Raynauds disease
  • Tendinitis
  • Tenosynovitis
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome


Bursitis is caused by overloading the affected joint via a repetitive motion. Often Bursitis is exacerbated if the repetitive motion has been undertaken in an awkward position or there has been poor posture. The "beat" Bursitis conditions are recognised industrial injuries and can often be tracked to specific professions.

It is common for workers in the construction industry to suffer from Bursitis, as workers will often need to raise their arms above head height on a repeated basis. Miners can suffer from beat hand, cleaners are susceptible to beat knee (commonly known as "Housemaids Knee") and painters or musicians can be susceptible to beat elbow. As well as repetitive motion, Bursitis has been known to be associated with diabetes and existing rheumatic disease.

Cubital tunnel syndrome

There are a number of potential medical causes of cubital tunnel syndrome such as aneurysms or thrombosis, Infections, tumours, or an inherent problem with the affected area, however, the condition is rarely associated with any serious medical problems and can usually be explained by the sufferer sleeping in a position that will have pinched the nerve. Sleeping with the arm up behind the head is a good example and will often have sufferers waking up with a tingling sensation in the fingers. This is quite common, is not usually serious and the symptoms typically go away quickly.

DeQuervain's syndrome

The causes behind instances of DeQuervain's syndrome are not known at this time, which has led to best guess speculation that it is caused by repetitive strain conditions.

Diffuse RSI

Cases of Diffuse RSI are most prevalent amongst computer users so it is argued that the causes can be traced back to overuse of a keyboard and mouse and also due to a poorly organised workstation that is ergonomically unsound. Additionally, stressful situations when the muscle tissues are tense can bring about bouts of Diffuse RSI conditions.

Dupuytren's contracture

Dupuytren's contracture is considered as an idiopathic condition although there has been incidental evidence to suggest that it can be genetic and sufferers of epilepsy, diabetes and alcoholism have a higher propensity towards developing Dupuytren's contracture.

Dystonia (writers cramp)

Dystonia is a neurological disorder that is caused by a malfunction in the brain although it is noted that repetitive tasks may bring on bouts of Dystonia. Cramp in the forearm is classed as an industrial injury in the UK and it is associated with the repetitive hand movements that are common amongst writers, typists and musicians amongst others.


Epicondylitis is caused by straining the muscles of the forearm through repeated movement. Epicondylitis is common amongst factory line workers. Tennis elbow is not only to be associated with an injury sustained during sport, it can just as easily be caused though tearing or straining tendons by carrying loads that are too heavy. It is the sudden and extreme nature of the physical exertion that can cause tennis elbow.

Gamekeeper's thumb

Gamekeeper's thumb is caused by the repetitive movement of the thumb and can be exacerbated over time. The related condition "skiers thumb" will have similar symptoms (although more severe pain) but will not gradually worsen with time, as it is an impact injury sustained when a skier falls.


It is unclear as to the cause of ganglions as they have been observed in individuals in all occupations and walks of life. Non-occupational aspects such as rheumatoid arthritis are known to cause ganglions, however, they can also be seen to be caused by overloading joints with weights that are too heavy and repetitive motions. This is one of the reasons why ganglions are so common on the fingers and wrists. Raynauds disease

Raynaud’s disease is not well understood as a condition and it is not known why it can occur in some people but not others. Occupationally it is known to have developed amongst users of vibrating machinery and it has been classed as an industrial injury when sufferers have been using hand held vibrating tools in the workplace.


Quite simply, Tendonitis is caused by overloading the tendons through repetitive strained movements. Tendinitis is a common complaint in a number of professions where repetitive movement is necessary and sportspeople are a in a high risk category for developing Tendinitis.


Tenosynovitis is commonly caused by repetitive movements and is common amongst computer users and factory line workers. Less commonly it can be brought about be rheumatism or arthritis and in very rare cases by infection. Tenosynovitis is considered as an industrial injury for workers involved in manual labour or those that need to make respective movements of the hand or wrist in the workplace environment.

Thoracic outlet syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome can be caused by carrying heavy weights on the shoulders and poor posture that restricts the movement of the shoulders. Thoracic outlet syndrome can cause pain for a sufferer when they attempt to raise their arm above shoulder level. The conditional can come about as part of the work environment where heavy weights are placed on the shoulders or there is restricted movement of the shoulders and also outside work if the sufferer has experienced a violent tear in the muscles in the area, which causes scar tissue and a compression of the blood vessels.

If you believe that symptoms described on this site sound similar to your own symptoms that have been directly caused as a consequence of your employment, you may be able to make an injury claim against your employer. Additional information can be found at the Workplace Injury website.