Diagnosing repetitive strain injury

There are no tests to confirm repetitive strain injury (RSI),  as the pain and symptoms are often caused by a variety of things.

RSI is often diagnosed when symptoms develop following a repetitive task and fade when the task is stopped.

Your GP can examine the area where you have pain and will ask about your symptoms and medical history. If you have type 1 RSI symptoms, such as inflammation and swelling, your GP may be able to diagnose a specific condition.

There are several medical conditions and injuries that can be classed as type 1 RSI. These include the following:

  • bursitis – inflammation and swelling of the fluid-filled sac near the joint of the knee, elbow or shoulder
  • carpal tunnel syndrome – pressure on the median nerve passing through the wrist
  • Dupuytren’s contracture – a thickening of deep tissue in the palm of the hand and into the fingers
  • epicondylitis – inflammation of an area where bone and tendon join (an example of epicondylitis is tennis elbow)
  • rotator cuff syndrome – inflammation of muscles and tendons in the shoulder
  • tendonitis – inflammation of a tendon
  • tenosynovitis – inflammation of the inner lining of the tendon sheath that covers the tendons, most commonly in the hand, wrist or forearms
  • ganglion cyst – a sac of fluid that forms around a joint or tendon, usually on the wrist or fingers
  • Raynaud’s disease – a condition where the blood supply to extremities, such as the fingers, is interrupted
  • thoracic outlet syndrome – compression of the nerves or blood vessels that run between the base of the neck and the armpit
  • writer’s cramp (a type of dystonia) – a condition that occurs from overuse of the hands and arms

Many of the conditions described above, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and Dupuytren’s contracture, can develop as part of normal ageing.

If you have type 2 RSI symptoms (non-specific pain and no inflammation or swelling), you may be referred for further tests to rule out other conditions. For example, you may be given an X-ray to test for osteoarthritis or blood tests to rule out inflammatory joint diseases.

If no other condition is found after having tests, you may be diagnosed with type 2 RSI, which is also known as non-specific pain syndrome.

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