Are RSI and Carpal Tunnel the Same Thing?

Many individuals are curious if the terms RSI (Repetitive Stress Injuries) and Carpal Tunnel means the same thing. While many may be in agreement that these two conditions are one in the same, they actually are not.

Repetitive Stress Injuries are complications that occur when a large amount of stress is experienced in a certain area of the body. The stress that is most common in this type of situation is the type that occurs over and over again on a consistent basis. There are several different types of RSI. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is just one type of injury that may be experienced when an individual suffers from injuries that are due to stress injuries that are repetitive in nature.

Causes of Repetitive Stress Injuries

There are a number of potential causes when it comes to repetitive stress injuries. Individuals that spend long hours on a computer may be prone to this type of injury. However, it has been found that certain physical activities, such as sports, may also result in the development of repetitive stress that can be potentially harmful to various areas of the body. There are certain jobs that an individual may engage in that result in injuries to certain areas of the body. Individuals that work in factories, an office, as a cashier, or those that play various types of musical instruments may be subjected to this type of physical complication.

The Symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injuries

There are a number of symptoms that may be experienced when an individual experiences RSI. The following details a list of the potential complications and uncomfortable symptoms that are likely to be experienced:

  1. In the area that is severely affected, it is common for a sufferer to experience a numb sensation. This may be accompanied by tingling in the area.
  2. The neck and the back area of the individual that suffers from RSI, or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, a type of RSI, may become quite stiff and relatively sore.
  3. Very often the extremities that are affected the most will feel weak. Many may complain that the area feels “tired”. In reality, the area actually is quite tired.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome at a Glance

There is a small area in the wrist of an individual that is often referred to as a “tunnel” by medical professionals. This is a relatively narrow space. However, when an individual experiences RSI, swelling is quite common. When the swelling affects this narrow space in the wrist area, it causes pressure to occur on the nerves in the area. These nerves are responsible for delivering impulses that are both “motor” and “sensory” to the hand. Naturally, if there is pressure on the nerves that have this responsibility, the individual is likely to experience pain in the hand. Symptoms that may also occur include that of tingling sensations, weakness, and even odd sensations of numbness.


While Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a type of injury that occurs as a result of Repetitive Stress Injuries, they are not one and the same. Repetitive Stress Injuries are ultimately considered to be the “cause” and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is considered to be the effect.

One of the most common causes of both RSI’s and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is simply improper workstation setup. From your keyboard and mouse to your chair and workstation, it’s probably designed to fit an “average” The problem is, few people are average, and using one-size-fits-all equipment hundreds of times every day can cause significant damage to wrists and other affected areas

If you’re ready to customize your work environment, Ergonomic Resources can help!

Article by Frank Barnett.

Randy Rasa

Randy is an engineer/programmer/web designer who has suffered from repetitive strain injury off and on for over a decade.


  1. I love the title of Suparna Damany’s book “It’s not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome”!

  2. Carpal tunnel syndrome, numbness in the hands, is the result of a RSI a number of other things.

    First off, it can actually be from constant use and inflammation of the flexor tendons as they pass in and out of the tunnel. However, one of the most common causes of numbness into the hands (often misdiagnosed as CTS) is an entrapment of the median nerve as it passed through the 2 heads of the pronator teres muscle in the forearm. This entrapment is from muscular overuse and is considered an RSI.

    I can’t tell you how many of my patients improve with treatment of the pronator teres, by Active Release Techniques®.

    Good post but I feel everyone should be aware of the multiple spots for a median nerve entrapment in the arm, which can cause symptom very similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

    For more info:

  3. Great post! I think people often confuse these terms. “Cause & Effect” is a great way to explain them. Thanks for the useful info!!

  4. Responding to John: That is a great book and is part of my library.

    Responding to Dr. Gonzalez: Yes, very true. Nerve entrapment can even start in the neck and cause symptoms in the hand and arm. The scalene muscles in the neck are the most commonly overlooked cause of CTS. Tight neck muscles can be relaxed with manual (hand) pressure.

    Responding to Alec: So true. Often the symptom (effect) is treated but the cause is not recognized. Bodies are so wonderful! They react and respond. They want to be well and can be well if we get rid of the cause of a problem.

  5. As someone who has researched this, to fix himself….

    Tight scalenese affect shoulders which affect nerves down the arm.

    Rub the forearm muscles – you can feel how hard they are. use ART or rub in one direction (towards fingers). Gives relief. Rub the base of your thumb. This led me to Trigger Point Therapy ( which is brilliant and I believe in it whole heartedly. But always a temporary fix as my muscles spasm/contract after a short while. I never could find a Trigger Point Therapist who would treat the scalenes/neck/shoulder first.

    If your thumbs have gone stiff, use a quick vibration massage tool on the thumb or thumb bones. instant loosening.
    This led me to look at myofascial treatment and came to Bowen Technique. Interesting and I wonder why that ‘vibration’ fixed my thumb/hand instantly.

    I have started treatment now, which after one session fixed a sprained left foot my physio/massage could not fix in 6 months.

    I know someone who is diagnosed with Fibormalgia and carpul tunnel. They had the operation which cuts the band. But the muscles in the tripceps and forearm are still rock hard. I rubbed them which eased/loosened the tight hand still.

    The cause is tight muscles. Fix that, fix the hands/fingers.

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