RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) can occur from any movement that is repeated many times. For most people it is the clicking of a mouse and the tapping of fingers on a keyboard, but it can also be contracted by playing a musical instrument. Other such conditions that can be aproduct of RSI are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Tendonitis.
Ways Of Preventing RSI
1. Check Your Fretting Hand
Having a poor hand position can be a factor is having more tension in your fretting hand, this is usually because the placement of the thumb is too high and that the wrist has to bend to allow the fingers to do their job. Depending on the size of your hand and how comfortable you are with playing with your thumb quite high this should be seen as a problem that needs sorted -- look at your wrist and that should tell you everything.
2. Check Your Guitar Height
Never ever play with a guitar too low down. It does not look cool, it does not enhance playing but it does encourage injury. Playing with the guitar quite high is actually more comfortable and allows for better playing in most cases. Again the indicators here should be the wrists and how straight they are.
3. Check Your Picking Hand
Anchoring your hand, forearm, pinky or any part of your body to the guitar creates more friction and more tension in your muscles. Fact. The decision as to whether they create enough tension to be a problem is yours. If it is then it would involve learning a new way of picking all over again -- this is worth it as I'm sure you'd rather play guitar than not even be able to grip things (happens in extreme cases).
Like above -- any unneeded tension can attribute to more pressure on your limbs. This can result in having a sore shoulder when you play to your hand going numb. At no point is guitar supposed to hurt when you're playing (apart from calluse building in your finger tips). If you are having such problems then just try to play something easy with no tension -- think light. Sometimes tension is a result of muscle memory and needs to be wiped out through lots of practice. This should involve relearning something slow -- speed when you can't play very fast causes most people to lock up their hands a bit too much.
The usual exercise of going 1-2-3-4 on the E string and moving up a string and up a string is good as it forces you to use all of your fingers and is a good indicator of improper technique. Your fingers should be able to easily fret after a little bit of practice and some improved finger independence. If this isn't the case then your thumb is probably too high.
Warm Up Exercises
Athletes warm up before running -- guitar is a physical exercise too. Try creating different stretches and such to help counter RSI. Something like putting your hand out before you like you were high-fiving someone, straightening your arm and gently pulling back on all of your fingers with the other hand until you feel a stretch in your wrist is a good little warm up.
Also try to stretch the wrists gently in any other direction you can. You might also considering doing stretches for your picking arm too if you are just geeting use to not anchoring as this arm is going to be feeling tired at the end of a playing session (tired not sore -- it's muslces that need to build up).
Build Up Endurance
The strength of the wrist depends on how strong your forearm muscles are. So some good exercises would be something chin-ups if you are lucky enough to have the facilities and the strength. Otherwise there are other exercises you can use.
For example, I use a tennis ball in each hand when I'm walking somewhere or waiting on a bus or watching TV and, with all of my fingers over the top I sit and squeeze them. This would build up muscles in your forearms and would also improve finger strength too. The stronger a muscle is the more it can endure before injury.
Golfers are known to always carry strong rubber balls for the same purpose and many of them (due to increased muscle in their wrists and forearms) have longer drives than before. Padraig Haddington uses a product called Powerball that does the same job except it puts a small amount of pressure on your muscles indirectly. It is recommended by chiropractors which brings me to my last point.
Seek Professional Advice
If your wrists are hurting (and I mean in every day activities like picking something up) then go and seek medical advice from someone who is actually qualified. Rest any type of exercise that could have an adverse effect on your wrists and follow the advice of your doctor and you should be fine.
When you're on stage, and rocking out and jumping up and down and moshing and putting on a performance, bear in mind a couple of things:
a) Don't strain yourself - whether this is cramp in a leg, your arm feels like it's going to fall off or seriously hurting your neck from headbanging
Solution - be able to do all of this comfortably for longer than you need - if the gig is an hour long, be sure you can play a set for longer than an hour and keep the energy up. If anything you can always be confident of doing an encore.
b) Know what you're playing well - nerves can cause you to tense up, especially if that solo is challenging and you don't know if you're going to get through it.
Solution - nail your tunes, play confidently and you will be at ease. Make it look easy by taking all the stress out of the performance and enjoy it more.
c) Know your limitations - if the drummer cannot spin his sticks and catch them, don't let him try mid-performance.
Solution - practices are for the horsing around. Piss about and try new things and if they work, put them into performances. Don't add unneeded stress to a performance because it will only add pressure and tension. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong so prepare for the worst.