9 Repetitive Strain Injury Stretching Exercises

Repetitive Strain Injury stretching exercises can help relieve pain and soreness throughout your body. Setting aside 15 minutes per day for the stretches in this article will help reduce your RSI tension, soreness, and pain.

What is a Repetitive Strain Injury?

A repetitive strain injury (sometimes referred to as repetitive stress injury) is an injury that develops over time from repeated microtrauma to your nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  

man at laptop with repetitive strain injury stretching wrist

It was first described by Dr. Ramazzini in the 1700s, as he noticed and categorized 20 types of repetitive trauma to Italian laborers in the industrial world. 

Its prevalence continues to be widespread today, although the presentation of RSI has changed somewhat due to work habits and technology usage in today’s world. 

The most common forms of RSIs in today’s world include: 

Factors that predispose individuals to RSI include:

  • Typing and using a computer mouse
  • Repetitive swiping of items at a checkout counter
  • Grasping and holding tools
  • working on an assembly line
  • training for sports

What are the symptoms of an RSI?

Repetitive Strain Injuries are more common in the upper extremities and typically present with the following characteristics:

  • Dull, aching pain that worsens with activity or prolonged positioning. 
  • Tenderness and tightness over the joints, muscles, and tendons that are affected. 
  • Possible numbness or tingling in the hands 
  • An urge to “shake” or stretch out your wrists or massage your muscles during activity. 
  • As symptoms worsen, you may find they linger after the action has ceased and may even wake you at night. 

What can you do to improve and prevent future Repetitive Strain Injuries?

ergonomic vs non-ergonomic workspace

Ergonomic Workspace Tips: 

  • Create a workspace that encourages upper extremity support, with shoulders relaxed, and ears, shoulders, and hips in line, with eyes straight ahead.  
  • If you are working with two monitors, you will need a swivel seat that allows you to keep your trunk in line as you switch between screens, to avoid prolonged positioning with the neck in a rotated position. 
  • Try to alter your workspace from sitting to standing throughout the day.
  • Support your wrists and keep them in a neutral position while typing. If you use a mouse frequently, having different mousing options will help alter the required muscles working throughout the day. Switching the mouse at lunchtime is an excellent way to create a habit to support this behavior change. 

Repetitive Strain Injury stretching throughout the workday: 

Here are some physical therapy exercises to feed your muscles, nerves, and tendons with the blood flow and mobility they need to stay healthy throughout the day.  

These particular stretches will give relative rest to your muscles, allowing them to perform better and sustain the necessary positions throughout the day. 

Global “no money” to median nerve glide with pectoralis stretch

  1. Start with arms bent to 90 degrees, palms facing up.  
  2. Pull the arms out to the sides, expanding your chest. 
  3. Pause here, then look up, extend the elbows and wrists.  
  4. Take a full breath in and out. 
  5. Repeat. 

Median nerve glide 

  1. Place your hand on the wall facing behind you. 
  2. Make sure to spread your fingers apart. 
  3. Then, slowly straighten your elbow, and at the same time, turn your body and your head away. 

Ulnar nerve glides

  1. Make an “OK” sign with your fingers. 
  2. Place your pinky finger on the angled portion of your jaw.  
  3. Slowly raise your elbow towards the sky to reach your “eye hole” to make a mask with your hand. 
  4. Pause here for just a second.  
  5. Repeat.  

If you do not have the flexibility to reach the hand to the target right away, do not worry. Instead, follow the cues and take your time building up the flexibility with the correct form. 

Finger stretch 

  1. Sit or stand with a tall, upright posture.  
  2. Place your hands in a prayer-type position.  
  3. Press your fingers together, and pull your palms away at the knuckles, creating a “tent” with your palms.  
  4. You will feel the stretch in the fingers. 

Twisted finger clasp with wrist rolls and pull-throughs

  1. These can be tricky. Take your time to follow the cues.  
  2. Start with your arms stretched out in front of you, one arm crossed over the other, clasping palms together.  
  3. Use the clasp to pull the wrists from side to side.  
  4. Then, bend your elbows in and pull your hands through, keeping fingers clasped.  
  5. Repeat with the opposite hand on top for the next round
  6. Alternate sides throughout the set. 

Set a timer for 5 minutes and perform each of the above exercises for 1 minute.  

For best results, do this a minimum of 2-3 times throughout your workday.  

Investing just 15 minutes throughout the day in 5 minute spaced intervals will maximize your results. 

If it feels really good to do these, you can do them more frequently if you’d like, but commit to a minimum of 3x daily to start and test your response. 

RSI Postural Exercises to get ahead of the injury and prevent reoccurrence:

While stretches are helpful throughout the day to minimize microtrauma from Repetitive Stress during work activities, it is also beneficial to support these structures with postural exercises throughout the week. 

In addition, with a more stable spine and posture, you will find it easier to maintain better positioning throughout the day. 

Improving your posture will reduce your chances of incurring Repetitive Strain Injuries in the first place.  

Keep it simple. Using targeted postural exercises in small doses gives our patients the best results to get ahead of their injury. 

Also, keeping the time commitment low will make it manageable for you to accomplish and stay consistent with, which will give the best long-term outcome. 

daily postural exercises: 

Propped knee slides with neck rotation

Be sure to keep your shoulder frame solid here and only slide the knee as far as possible without sacrificing the shoulder frame.  

Once the knee is in place, add the neck rotation and look for the knee.  

If you can’t feel it at first, it’s ok. Be patient with your progress and stick to the cues.

Propped upper extremity reaching patterns 

Keep your eyes on your hand to incorporate the entire kinetic chain of postural muscles. 

Don’t forget to breathe. 

Crab to bridge

It is vital to make sure your hands are driving through the floor here to stretch the pectoral muscles while you’re bridging.  

Also, keep your ears in line with your shoulders and hips throughout the movement.

Straight arm scapular only push-ups

Keep your arms straight here.  

Keep your tail tucked, and don’t let your back sag.  

The movement must come from the mid-back and shoulder blades only. 

Do each exercise for 1 minute, one time daily.  

That’s 4 minutes of your day. Over time, the progress accumulates to a noticeable point and will give you freedom from pain and injury associated with repetitive strain or stress.  

Wrapping Up

These Repetitive Strain Injury stretching exercises address the most common limitations we see with RSIs. Try them consistently for 3-4 weeks and measure your progress. You will want to look for the following to indicate improvement:

  • A reduction in the frequency of symptoms
  • An increase in the time it takes for the symptoms to present (comes on later in the day than prior weeks) 
  • A decrease in the intensity of symptoms
  • A reduced irritability of your symptoms (when symptoms come on, they diminish more easily). 
  • A change in the location of the symptoms (usually symptoms closer to the shoulder vs. further away towards the hand is a sign of improvement in nerve-related symptoms). 

If you do not see any of the above changes in your symptoms despite a consistent commitment to the exercises, OR if you want to speed up your recovery, find a trained musculoskeletal specialist to help.  

You will want to look for a physical therapist, chiropractor, or doctor trained in postural or movement assessment. These providers can often speed recovery using manual techniques such as massage, stretching, dry needling, and joint mobilizations, modalities such as laser therapy. In addition, they will help make sure you are doing the exercises with an optimal form for addressing your limitations. 

If you’re in the Main Line Philadelphia or Haverford area, schedule a free consultation or give Primal Physical Therapy a call, and our team will gladly help expedite your recovery!

Dr. JJ Thomas, DPT, MPT, CMTPT

JJ Thomas is the owner and founder of Primal Physical Therapy, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. She is an instructor for Evidence in Motion, and lectures and speaks nationally on the topics of Dry Needling, Functional Movement Analysis, and Functional Anatomy. She has been published in IJSPT for her contribution to a commentary on dry needling and consults as a content expert for organizations such as the APTA and FSBPT. In this role, she played a large part in the addition of a CPT code for dry needling through the AMA and was on the task force that helped identify competency standards for dry needling education nationally. JJ works with US Field Hockey teams, and individuals from US Lacrosse, US Polo, USA Track and Field, NFL, NBA, PLL, MLB, and more.
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