Types of RSI
Types of repetitive strain injury

Repetitive Strain Injuries are a serious form of debilitating condition. Although RSI is not strictly speaking recognised as a medical condition, it is estimated that RSI related injuries cost UK industry up to £20 billion annually through lost production.

There are broadly two different types of Repetitive Strain Injuries. Type 1 are characterised as musculoskeletal disorders and type 2 are known as diffuse RSI cases, which are now largely thought to be attributed to nerve damage and are very highly related to certain vocational activities.

We have noted below a comprehensive list of the different types of repetitive strain injuries that are characterised in society today. Advice on Causes of RSI Preventing RSI Treating RSI and Employment & Legal can be found in their respective categories on this site.


Bursitis is the inflammation of what is known as a bursa. A bursa is a sac containing fluid, which allows two surfaces to move without friction in separate directions and it is most often located in parts of the body where muscles or tendons will glide over joints such as your knee, shoulder, etc.

Commonly bursitis is caused by continual friction on the bursa and is known as a "beat" condition.

Cubital tunnel syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome causes pain, paralysis or numbness of the ring and little fingers, which may in turn progress up the arm. It is caused when the Ulnar nerve is pinched along the elbow's edge and this compression causes the tingling or painful feeling. Cubital tunnel syndrome is not to be confused with carpal tunnel syndrome because carpal tunnel syndrome affects the different fingers. Cubital tunnel syndrome affects the ring finger and little fingers, whereas carpal tunnel syndrome affects the first three fingers.

DeQuervain's syndrome

DeQuervain's syndrome also referred to as mother's wrist and washerwoman's sprain is an inflammation of the tunnel that encapsulates the two tendons that moderate the movement of the thumb. There is some confusion as to the categorisation of DeQuervain's syndrome, in that one school of thought believes that the syndrome is a form of repetitive strain injury which is symptomatic of an overuse injury, whereas others believe it is part of a degenerative process. Nevertheless, DeQuervain's syndrome can cause sufferers a tender and swollen thumb and affect the ability to grip objects.

Diffuse RSI

The categorisation of diffuse RSI, or non-specific pain syndrome, is a relatively new terminology for repetitive strain injuries, which could be attributed to the increase in repetitive office based work. As diffuse RSI is a somewhat catchall term for types of RSI all over the body and sufferers in many cases cannot illustrate demonstrable physical signs of injury, it is a controversial area and diagnosis can be very problematic. Recent studies have offered theories that diffuse RSI sufferers are more susceptible to RSI related pain due to nerve damage and a lack of mobility of the median nerve. It is argues that these nerve related inconsistencies are then translated by the brain in terms of pain, numbness, weakness, tingling and cramps to the sufferer.

Dupuytren's contracture

Dupuytren's contracture is a condition whereby the sufferer is unable to fully straighten their fingers into an open hand. Usually, it is the ring and little finger that are affected. The condition manifests itself through the accumulation of scar tissue underneath the skin at the base of the finger where it meets the palm. The tissue will thicken and shorten over time, which eventually preclude the tendons from having free movement to the extent that in serious cases the fingers cannot be straightened at all.

Dystonia (Writers Cramp)

Writers Cramp is part of the dystonia type of disorder and can be characterised by involuntary muscle spasms and twisting movements, not only by the fingers, but other parts of the body. Obviously, as the name suggests, the injury can be prevalent amongst writers; however, it has been seen amongst musicians, office workers, etc.

Writerís cramp can cause uncomfortable tension in the hand and arm and dystonic writerís cramp can cause involuntary hand tremors, muscle spasms and an unnecessarily strong grip on the writing implement. Writerís cramp is seen as an industrial injury and is currently recognised by the UK benefits agency.


Epicondylitis, also known as Golfer's elbow and Tennis Elbow is a common repetitive strain injury affecting the elbow joint. In terms of Tennis Elbow, the lateral aspect of the elbow is affected and for Golfers Elbow the medial aspect is affected. The epicondylitis condition is caused by the inflammation of the tendons that connect to the bone and exacerbated by repeated strain on the forearm muscles that extend down the arms to the wrist and fingers. The extension or twisting of the arm is a major determinant in the syndrome, which is common amongst sportspeople that play sports that are demanding on the body.

Gamekeeper's thumb

Gamekeeper's thumb also known as trigger thumb or skiers thumb is a repetitive strain injury caused by a strain to the ulnar collateral ligament. The injury is common amongst gamekeepers and skiers and can cause swelling and pain to the thumb.


A Ganglion cyst is a fairly common form of a repetitive strain injury (so much so that I currently have one on my middle finger!). The cyst forms when tissues surrounding various joints become inflamed and will swell containing fluid. Typically, Ganglions will occur on the wrist or fingers and they should not normally be seen as dangerous i.e. they are not tumours. Ganglions can be totally painless or they can cause some discomfort if the cyst is on a joint and certainly if you happen to accidentally knock the ganglion against a hard surface. A ganglion can increase in size over time and will usually disappear eventually.

There have been some linkage between ganglions and rheumatoid arthritis; however, more often the ganglion will have been caused by repetitive use of the joint or overloading which has degenerated the tissue responsible for producing synovial fluid to the extent that the fluid will seep out and form a cyst.

Raynaudís Disease

Raynaudís Disease is a repetitive strain injury condition whereupon the blood supply to a bodily extremity is interrupted. During an attack of Raynaudís disease the extremities (usually fingers) will become blue or white due to the blood vessels constricting the circulation of blood. This condition can be painful and at an extreme, gangrene could even set in.

It is not wholly understood why the condition occurs although occupation factors play a large part in its manifestation. The nerves in the hand can shut off the blood supply as a consequence of vibrating machinery and the condition is usually preceded by infection, exhaustion or cold working conditions and sufferers will feel a tingling sensation as well as outright pain.


Tendinitis is a category of repetitive strain injury that pertains to the swelling of tendons in the body. When these tendons are overused they can swell which can cause tears and inflammation. A number of more specific RSI conditions can be grouped under the tendonitis category such as carpal tunnel syndrome or epicondylitis. Typical areas on the body that can be susceptible to tendonitis are joints such as shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands. Sufferers will encounter pain in the affected area and possible lack of mobility, which will gradual increase in severity if not treated appropriately. Repetitive activity is a large factor in tendonitis cases.


Tenosynovitis is also a category of repetitive strain injury that pertains to the swelling of tendons in the body and also the inflammation of the synovial sheath that covers the tendons. DeQuervain's syndrome and Trigger Thumb are common forms of tenosynovitis. Tenosynovitis can last a short time (days) or in extreme cases can take months to clear, however, it is usually responsive to treatment. Repetitive activity is a large factor in tenosynovitis cases although tenosynovitis can be caused by other heath problems such as arthritis and rheumatism and (very unusually) from infection.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a form of repetitive strain injury that is caused by a compression of nerves (or blood vessels) going through the thoracic outlet, which is between the lower neck and armpit. Thoracic outlet syndrome can cause pain in the arm, shoulder or neck and will go in hand with a feeling of weakness in the area, tingling or numbness. Activities where there is a great deal of strain on the shoulders, neck or arms and the inherent tissue can cause an inflammation of the tendons, which can lead to thoracic outlet syndrome.