Massage Helps RSIs (Repetitive Strain Injuries)

RSICTS scarred_wrist

Do you have a Blackberry thumb or an iPod finger? Wrists ache from typing or mousing? Is your elbow still swollen from the last time you played golf?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you have a repetitive strain injury (RSI), also known as an “overuse injury”. RSIs result from highly repetitive movements that cause swelling and damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves or joints.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), repetitive strain injuries are the nation’s most common and costly occupational health problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of American workers, and costing more than $20 billion a year in workers compensation.

Movements repeated over and over, day after day, take their toll on the body. Muscles used repeatedly stay tense and contracted, reducing the range of motion needed for activity.

Micro-tears occur in the soft tissues (muscle, tendons) and the area swells up and puts pressure on nerves nearby; causing symptoms such as pain, weakness, loss of strength, and tremors.

This cycle continues until the body has a chance to rest from the activity causing the tension. In some cases like tennis elbow, tendon healing can take a month or more.

RSIs cause everyday tasks to be challenging: chopping vegetables, turning doorknobs, dressing. The joints that are the most affected by RSIs are in the hand, wrist, arm and shoulder.

RSI Examples

carpal tunnel anattennis golfers elbow


  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – wrist swells and causes pain, pressure on median nerve; usually from typing, keyboard use
  • De Quervain Syndrome – painful swelling of the thumb tendons
  • Focal Dystonia – fingers curl, clench or shake involuntarily; affects musicians
  • Golfer’s Elbow – pain on the inner side of elbow
  • Radial Tunnel Syndrome – radial nerve compressed at elbow, called “resistant tennis elbow”
  • Tennis Elbow – pain on the outer side of the elbow
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – space between collarbone and first rib becomes compressed, causing shoulder and neck pain, finger numbness
  • Trigger Finger – finger gets stuck in a bent position; from repeated gripping

RSI Risk Factors

  • Computer use for more than two hours a day- involves long periods of repetitive motions in a fixed posture
  • Poor posture – slouching, hunching over desk; resting on one elbow
  • High-pressure environment – stress taxes the body
  • Arthritis or previous injury – more likely to have inflammation, adhesions; scar tissue that restricts movement
  • Lack of exercise – muscles should be strong and flexible for activity
  • Exercise overload – too much too quickly overloads the muscles and joints, lack of proper form or technique causes injury
  • Sleep disorder – lack of rest taxes the body, slows healing process

Massage Helps RSIs

Massage therapy for a RSI will focus on all muscles involved. The injured site will be addressed of course, but the surrounding muscles need to be treated also.

Your massage therapist will assess your condition by looking at your posture, range-of-motion, and muscle condition (weak, tense, spasms, etc.).

Arm massage

Massage helps RSIs in many ways:


  • Relaxes tight muscles
  • Reduces pain and tension
  • Increases circulation of blood and lymph
  • Restores proper range-of-motion
  • Treats trigger points (hyper-irritable sore points)
  • Increases relaxation, leading to better sleep
  • Relieves spasms
  • Remodels scar tissue

With many RSIs there is internal rotation of the shoulder (turned inward) that needs to be corrected. A tight shoulder will compress nerves and aggravate conditions of the elbow, wrist and hand. Circulation of blood and tissue fluid will be impaired also. Correcting the position of the shoulder helps reduce symptoms.

Significant relief can be felt after one session, but several massage sessions are usually required to address the issue.

Call Woodstown Massage Boutique, 856-769-1373, to schedule a massage for your RSI.

RSI Treatment

  • rest – muscles need time to recover; refrain from the activity for a while to give the muscles time to heal
  • ice – 15 minutes of an ice pack on the area reduces pain and swelling
  • exercise – stretch and strengthen affected muscles; low-impact better: walking, swimming, yoga; always warm up and cool down, stretch; know when to slow down and rest
  • ergonomic workstation – have chair with multiple adjustments (height, tilt, armrest height, etc.), top of computer screenat eye level, feet on floor, headset, etc.

Computer ergonomics

  • type less – use voice-recognition software (ex., Dragon Speak), call instead of email
  • medications – analgesic, anti-inflammatory – discuss with your doctor
  • splinting – sometimes it helps; if worn too long muscles weaken and stiffen
  • surgery – a last resort option; sometimes it’s the only solution left, but other treatment options should be explored first

RSI Links

Mayo Clinic – Preventing Overuse Injuries

Web MD – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Computer Related Repetitive Strain Injury

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Bill Martin

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