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Repetitive Strain Glossary
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What is RSI of the thumb?


This is where the bursa – a sac full of fluid found in bits of the body like the knees, elbows and shoulders – become inflamed. The bursa is designed to help muscles and tendons move in separate directions without causing friction. Bursitis occurs where repetitive movements of the joints are involved.

Your chances of developing bursitis increase if you have to spend a long time kneeling down or resting on your elbows at work or carry out tasks where you have to use your wrist, forearms or elbows a lot. Twisting, pulling and gripping all contribute to it, so if you’re a carpenter or musician for example, you could develop bursitis as a result of your work.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (otherwise known as CTS) is a fairly common condition causing tingling sensations, numbness and varying instances of pain in the hands and fingers. CTS commonly affects the thumb, as well as the index and middle fingers.

Diffuse Repetitive Strain Injury

Lots of repetitive strain injuries that are hard to diagnose are grouped together as diffuse RSI. Diffuse Repetitive Strain Injury is used to describe injuries on all parts of the body and where there aren’t physical symptoms like swelling for the medical profession to use in ascertaining exactly what the problem is. An increase in the amount of office jobs and office workers is thought to have triggered more of this sort of injury. Symptoms include pain, numbness, weakness, tingling and cramp in whichever part of the body is affected.


Dystonia is more known as writer’s cramp. Anyone suffering from this condition will experience muscle spasms and twisting movements mainly in the fingers. Other parts of the body can be affected though, and sufferers can’t control the movements. They’ll have to use more force than is necessary to do simple tasks like grip a pencil, hence the condition’s name. Musicians and office workers are likely to be affected by dystonia and it’s recognised as an industrial injury in the UK.

Frozen Shoulder

There are two conditions in particular which affect the shoulder. Frozen shoulder is, as the name suggests, a condition which results in the reduced mobility of the shoulder joint. The condition starts with a dull ache, usually felt over the outer shoulder with sharper pains brought on by particular activities. Frozen shoulder normally develops in the following way: Freezing – Inflammation in the shoulder joint lining leads to the development of scar tissue which restricts shoulder movement. This stage typically lasts between 2 and 9 months. Frozen – A lack of movement in the joint and ‘stickiness’ causes adhesions meaning the upper arm bone doesn’t run smoothly in its socket. This stage normally lasts between 4 and 9 months. Thawing – The movement slowly returns and this usually takes between 5 months and 2 years. If you think you may be suffering with frozen shoulder it is important to keep the shoulder moving and avoid movements that cause you pain.

Gamekeeper’s Thumb

Gamekeeper’s thumb was named so after Scottish gamekeepers who injured their thumbs while at work many years ago. It’s caused by a strain to the ulnar collateral ligament which is attached to the middle joint of the thumb, and the joint next to the web space of the thumb. If this ligament is stretched too much, as it was in the case of the gamekeepers in Scotland as part of their job, the thumb becomes swollen and sore. It can become unstable and may need surgery in severe cases. With this form of RSI bruising occurs and the condition needs an x-ray to properly diagnose it.

Golfer's Elbow

Golfer’s elbow is a very similar condition which refers to pain in the tendon connecting to the inner side of the elbow.


You’ve probably heard of this condition but not by this name. A lot of sporting injuries are forms of epicondylitis, particularly Tennis Elbow or Golfer’s Elbow. The condition affects the tendons that connect to the bone at the elbow causing inflammation. It’s made worse by repeated strain being placed on the forearm muscles from constant twisting and extending of the arms.


Ganglion cysts, which can be as small as a pea or as large as a golf ball, form when tissues that surround joints become inflamed and full of fluid. They’re totally painless and harmless in most cases but can be painful particularly if they’re on a joint or knuckle, and if you knock them it could bring tears to your eyes. They disappear with time, however, and can be treated by draining with a needle.

Raynaud’s Disease

This is a pretty nasty form of RSI and can be terribly painful. If you suffer from Raynaud’s disease, the nerves in your hand shut off the blood supply causing the hands to turn white or even blue due to the constriction. Episodes can last anything from a few minutes to several hours. Those affected usually work in jobs where there’s a lot of vibration, like factories with machines, or where the working conditions are very cold.

Repetitive Shoulder Injuries

Chronic shoulder pain is most often as a result of prolonged, repetitive, or awkward movements, otherwise known as repetitive strain injury (RSI)

Rotator cuff syndrome

Rotator cuff syndrome is a condition which describes damage to either the tendons (anchoring the muscle to the bone) or bursa (which act as a gel pad around the bone). The damage caused in these areas results in them becoming inflamed. Sufferers of rotator cuff syndrome will find physiotherapy reduces the pain and cortisone (steroid) injections in the inflamed area can also help.


Carpal tunnel syndrome and epicondylitis can be grouped under tendonitis. Injuries of this type typically affect the shoulder joints, elbows, wrists and hands, and are characterised by swelling of the tendons in them. It’s painful and sufferers will also experience a lack of mobility in these areas. Tendonitis is caused by repetition and is one of the most common forms of RSI.

Tenosynovitis (DeQuervains)

Like many other forms of RSI, tenosynovitis happens when tendons become inflamed and swell up. It can last for a few days or take months to clear up. DeQuervain’s syndrome is one form of tenosynovitis and, like the others, responds well to treatment. Also known as mother’s wrist or washerwoman’s sprain, this is another common form of RSI. It happens when there’s inflammation of the tendons in the thumb causing it to swell and feel tender. If you have a job where you have to do lots of repetitive grabbing or do lots of gardening, you may be at risk of developing DeQuervain’s syndrome. You’ll know you’ve got it if it’s painful to make a fist as the swollen tendons will be stretched and pulled and even this simple movement will hurt your thumb. The syndrome affects women more than men.

Tension neck syndrome

Tension neck syndrome is a work-related soft-tissue syndrome with symptoms including fatigue and stiffness in the neck, pain in the neck and shoulder, headache radiating from the neck and muscle spasms.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome affects the area between the lower neck and armpit in what’s known as the thoracic outlet. Pain, tingling and numbness occur in the arm, shoulder and neck when the thoracic outlet is compressed. Jobs with a lot of lifting and where there’s strain put on the shoulders, neck and arms can cause the condition.

Trigger Thumb

Trigger thumb (or trigger finger) is a condition affecting the tendons in the hand. Pain is experienced when the affected thumb or finger is bent towards the palm of the hand, the tendon becomes stuck and the thumb clicks or locks.

White Finger

White finger or vibration white finger affects, you won’t be surprised to know, the fingers! It’s common among road workers and construction workers who use heavy vibration tools like jackhammers and pneumatic drills, and is a form of Raynaud’s Disease. It gets its name because one of the symptoms is a white finger as the blood vessels are damaged in the hands, forearms and wrists. As many as one in 10 workers who regularly use vibration tools will develop the condition and it usually takes a decade or so to appear.

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Claiming For Repetitive Strain Injuries

Suffering with RSI?

If you are suffering with RSI in the wrist as a result of your job, you might be entitled to make a claim for compensation. Find out more about making a claim for RSI in the wrist by seeing our video to the right.