Family doctors across Sussex are seeing a growing number of people in their surgeries suffering from a range of symptoms and onditions commonly known as Repetitive Strain Injusry (RSI).

RSI does not only affect working adults. Children who spend hours playing computer games can develop aches and pains in their fingers, wrists and arms.

The affliction, which is caused by intensive keyboard and mouse work, now accounts for a quarter of all work-related injuries.

RSI is becoming the industrial ailment of the 21st Century and anyone who works on a computer is vulnerable to it.

Sylvia Dennerstein knows what it is like to have constant aches and pains in her wrists and arms. She started working as a legal secretary 15 years ago and began developing problems shortly afterwards.

It was only when she saw a brief mention of the condition on a TV programme she realised her condition had a name. Miss Dennerstein, from Brighton, immediately went to her GP who agreed she was suffering from RSI.

She said: "I have learnt to avoid situations which aggravate the problem which means keeping away from a computer and not lifting heavy things.

"Physiotherapy and other treatments have improved things for me a lot."

Miss Dennerstein set up the Brighton RSI Group when she moved to Sussex four years ago. "Our purpose is to help raise public awareness about RSI to prevent others from being injured and to offer information and support to anyone affected by RSI-type conditions."

The term RSI is not, in itself, a medical diagnosis. It is used to describe conditions such as cramp of the hand or tendonitis. There is also a condition known as "diffuse RSI" which is more difficult to define but which recent research attributes to nerve damage.

RSI is an umbrella term, similar to that of "sports injury", in that it tells more about how the injury was sustained than what it actually is.

Fingers, hands and arms which are subjected to overuse compounded by poor posture, twisting, cold, vibration or stress are vulnerable to injury.

RSI conditions occur in both upper and lower limbs as well affecting different parts of the the spine. This, in turn, can cause referred pain to the limbs, making diagnosis difficult.

Symptoms of numbness, tingling, sharp pain, dull ache, weakness, loss of grip and restricted movement of limbs can render people incapable of carrying out the simplest of tasks at home or work.

Lack of accurate diagnosis and access to appropriate treatment can make the condition worse.

Treatments which can help include physiotherapy and the use of light, infrared and ultraviolet rays, heat, electric current, massage, manipulation and remedial exercise.

Drugs such as aspirin, antidepressants and muscle relaxants have also been found to help.

More extreme remedies can involve injections of cortisone into the tendons but these often only give short-term relief and do not address the underlying problem.

People who want to avoid drugs or more conventional treatments can look to complementary therapies such as the Alexander Technique which teaches people the importance of posture.

Pilates is a body conditioning method which targets the deep abdominal muscles to build up their strength and improve flexibility.

Patients have also found discipline, very helpful. The physical movements alone will help with fitness and flexibility, and stretching can help to manage the symptoms of RSI.

Some patients have found magnet therapy to be helpful.

Magnets placed on the body have an effect on charged particles in the blood, helping blood vessels expand and thereby increase circulation. This promotes healing.

For more details about the Brighton RSI Group write to: C/o 12 Langdale Court, Kingsway, Hove BN3 4HF.

Further information is also available at