Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI)

In a repetitive stress injury (RSI), sports injury cases are especially prevalent, including rowing and the equestrian sports (e.g., horseback riding). Understanding the causes, symptoms and prevention of RSIs can minimize discomfort and lead to better treatment.

M. Darryl Antonacci, MD
Chief Spine Surgeon & Director
Specialist in Pediatric & Adult Spine
Randal R. Betz, MD
Spine Surgeon
Specialist in Pediatric Spine

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What is a repetitive stress injury (RSI)?

As the name implies, it is an injury of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that is caused by repetitive actions, forceful exertions or sustained positions. Due to the different manners in which they are acquired, they may also be called cumulative trauma disorders, repetitive motion injuries or disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, and occupational or sports overuse syndromes.

Sports and Repetitive Stress Injuries

Repetitive stress and trauma can cause back injury in athletes, especially adolescents; the repetitive bending and twisting may put athletes at risk for spinal injuries. Fatigued bodies cannot provide full back protection, and the use of improper sport technique or weak/tight muscles also can lead to injury.
Many popular sports are possible causes of repetitive and misuse stress injuries, including: rowing, equestrian activities, golf, running and tennis. Rowing, although a vigorous sport that uses many major muscle groups, is a low-impact activity with movement only in defined ranges and twist and sprain injuries are rare. It’s the repetitive rowing action, however, that can put strain on knee joints, the tendons of the forearm, and of course the spine. Further, if a poor technique is using in rowing, an RSI can be more likely. Equestrian sports, such as horseback riding, can be a source of injury brought on by the repetitive impact activity of bouncing, including aggravating other existing spine disorders.

Symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injuries

Symptoms of RSIs as they relate to the spine may include the following:

  • Tingling, numbness, or pain in the affected area
  • Stiffness or soreness in the neck or back
  • Popping or clicking sensation

Even if not persistent, ignoring symptoms may lead to more serious problems, and eventually prevent you from participating in the sport that caused the problem, as well as other everyday tasks and favorite activities.

Treatment of Repetitive Stress Injuries

Possible treatments, whether they be non-surgical, or if necessary surgical, can be discussed with your physician. Physical therapy, rest from the offending activity, pain relieving medications and many other options may serve together to relieve symptoms of repetitive stress injuries no matter what the cause.

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