Self-Help For Repetitive Strain Injury
It starts with numbness, tingling, or significant musculoskeletal pain which can come and go, but over time repetitive strain injury (RSI) can become chronic, painful and debilitating, as well as permanently damage muscles, tendons and nerves. And while treating RSI can be a bit of a “merry-go-round”, adding a TENS machine to your treatment plan can help for various reasons, including pain relief.
RSI, which is sometimes referred to as occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), is an injury that occurs when a part of the body is subjected to repetitive or prolonged movements, and it commonly affects the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, and back. It’s prevalent among people whose jobs require them to perform repetitive tasks such as typing, using a computer mouse, or working on an assembly line, and in Australia it’s one of the most common work-related injuries, accounting for almost nine per cent of all reported workplace injuries or illnesses in 2021-22 according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
There are two primary types of RSI, with type 1 being pain caused by a medical condition and type 2 being non-specific pain. Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are examples of medical conditions and common overuse injuries not exclusive to tennis players or golfers. Another is carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful disorder of the hand caused by pressure on nerves that run through the wrist from using hands repetitively in day-to-day activities which can even include using gym equipment.
RSI affects different people in different ways, and besides numbness, tingling, aching and pain, additional symptoms include tenderness, stiffness, joint restriction, muscle cramping, and swelling in the hands or forearms. Another issue is “referred pain” that originates in one part of the body, such as the neck, and is experienced elsewhere, such as the arms. When it comes to treatment, recommendations usually include resting the affected body part and taking painkillers, with physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and in some cases, surgery, being options down the track if the problem persists.
However, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machines such as the PainPod and Hidow can not only provide on-demand pain relief for RSI and enhance physiotherapy sessions, but they may also help to prevent a flare-up from occurring. They work by interfering with and blocking pain signals from travelling to the brain and stimulating the body to produce endorphins for drug-free pain relief (1)(2). The device floods your nervous system with gentle electrical impulses, which are delivered through the skin via electrodes attached to adhesive pads placed on the affected area such as the wrist or elbow in the case of RSI. It’s a similar process to how painkillers treat pain, but a major bonus for TENS, especially if you’re struggling with chronic pain (3), is that pain relief comes without potentially serious side effects or risking dependency.
Additionally, PainPod and Hidow machines provide EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) technology which may help with joint pain and swelling. And along with convenience and portability, there’s a range of accessories you can add to your device to customise treating RSI such as the Hidow AcuElbow Wrap, which has larger silicone conductive pads for variable compression and overall support. And as a bonus, besides helping to ease the pain of RSI injuries such as tennis elbow (4) and carpal tunnel syndrome (5), a TENS machine can also be used for a feel-good foot massager after a long day at work.
- Vance, et al. Using TENS for pain control: the state of the evidence. Pain Management. 3: 197-209, 2014
- Kwon, DR. et al. Short-term micro-current electrical neuromuscular stimulation to improve muscle function in the elderly: A randomised, double-blinded, sham-controlled clinical trial. Medicine. 96:26, 2017
- Carroll. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for chronic pain Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2001(3): p. Cd003222
- Chesterton. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation as adjunct to primary care management for tennis elbow: pragmatic randomised controlled trial (TATE trial). BMJ. 347: p. f5160, 2013
- Naeser, M. A., K. A. Hahn, B. E. Lieberman and K. F. Branco. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Carpal tunnel syndrome pain treated with low-level laser and micro-amperes transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation: A controlled study. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 83(7): 978-988, 2002