A repetitive stress injury (RSI), also known as a repetitive strain injury, can be any one of a range of conditions affecting the muscles, nerves and tendons of your body. Workers in the healthcare sector are especially at risk from contracting RSIs as much of the work can involve carrying out repetitive tasks. Unfortunately it is the constant repetition of manual actions that makes you most likely to develop an RSI – nurses and careworkers often find themselves suffering from the symptoms of common RSIs, so let’s have a look at those injuries that you might be likely to have.

The most common RSIs

There are a number of very common RSIs, some of which are better known than others. You may well have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome – a condition that is caused by irritation of the median nerve were in passes over the carpal bones in your wrist and hand. It can result in numbness, tingling and pain.

Bursitis is another common RSI which results in inflammation of fluid sacs known as bursas. These form over the joints to cushion bones and tendons, but when they become inflamed they can cause swelling, tenderness and pain. A similar but different condition, ganglion, sees cysts forming on top of joints and tendons.

But not all RSIs are because of swelling and inflammation. Depuytren’s contracture results from the contracting and toughening of skin on the palm which can cause fingers to bend inwards. Other common RSIs include tendinitis, rotator cuff syndrome and trigger finger, but there are a range of other conditions.

Do you have an RSI?

Because of the number of different RSIs, there are a large variety of symptoms and can point to them. Depending on what part of your body is affected and how severe the condition is, symptoms can be very mild or highly intense. They can also last for a short amount of time or develop to the point at which they are chronic.

However, it is common to all RSIs that symptoms will get worse if you continue to carry out the same repetitive actions that caused them in the first place. This means if you notice symptoms while or immediately after carrying out a task, it can be a sign that you have an RSI.

In healthcare workers, the problems generally occur around the hands and wrists. Some of the most common symptoms include coldness in the hands and fingers, loss of sensation and strength, pain and a throbbing sensation in the area of the RSI. You may find that you struggle to perform tasks such as doing up buttons. You might also notice that you are experiencing pins and needles, feeling fatigued or having trouble sleeping. Note that it’s common that symptoms are worst at night.

What should you do if you have an RSI?

The best way to overcome an RSI is to stop carrying out the movement that is causing the problem. Unfortunately if the RSI is due to a task that you are required to undertake while you are at work, it can be difficult to avoid it. It is also possible that by the time you realise that you have an RSI you will already have done a significant amount of damage to cause a problem that lasts a long time.

Remember that your employer has a duty to you to carry out health and safety assessments to ensure you are not in a position to develop an RSI. They need to find ways to minimise risk, whether this is through scheduling rest time, using alternative equipment or performing different tasks. If you are in a position where you have suffered an RSI relating to tasks at work, if may be down to inappropriate planning from your employer.

Can you claim compensation?

There are challenges to healthcare professionals seeking compensation for RSIs sustained through their work. Part of the problem is that RSIs develop over time rather than being down to a specific incident.

Equally it is an issue that employees are required to begin a compensation claim within two years of the date when they became aware they were injured at work. Unfortunately the nature of RSIs is that they get progressively worse over months and years, so a worker might believe their injury was only minor when they originally realised they had it, only to understand later that it may something serious.

It is therefore essential that if you believe you may have suffered an RSI at work that you should seek medical care and legal advice, even if it appears to be a mild condition. If it turns into a condition that it is a major problem you need to act as fast as possible.

* In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.


Mike James is an independent legal blogger. He has been working with McCarthy & Co Solicitors, a specialist personal injury solicitor based in Cork, Ireland, who have provided advice and guidance on the legal regulation aspects of the above article.