by Kimberly Allen RN
Repetitive motion injuries (also called repetitive stress injuries) are a type of injury that are caused by long term over use of your joints. Repetitive motion injuries are one of the most common injuries seen in the US. They account for over 50% of all the athletic related injuries seen by Drs. These type of injuries also come with significant economic cost in lost work and decreased production.
Repetitive motion injuries can be temporary or permanent. They affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves of your joints. These type of injuries occur when you use the same joint the same way day after day for a prolonged period of time. When you use a particular joint like your wrist or elbow, for example, to do the same thing, like typing, microscopic tears occur in the tissue around that joint. Normally your body can repair those tears, however, in these situations the tears are occurring faster than your body can repair them. As your tissue continues to tear it becomes inflamed, causing pain. Other symptoms depends on the joint affected. There may be redness, warmth and swelling in addition to the pain of the affected joint. If the injury is severe there can also be numbness with decreased motion, strength and flexibility as well as a general clumsiness. These symptoms can continue to worsen over time eventually resulting in complete loss of function if left untreated.
Repetitive motion injuries can affect almost any joint in your body, the most commonly affected joints are the wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and hips. There has also been an increase in repetitive injures to thumbs recently, some call it “blackberry thumb”. There are many different types of repetitive motion injuries, some of the most common are carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and bursitis.
Though repetitive motion injuries usually develop from repetitive motion they can also be caused by other factors like trauma and friction. Other unrelated illnesses can also lead to repetitive motion injures like rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
When detected early, many repetitive motion injuries can be treated at home by elevating and resting the affected joint. Using ice also decreases the inflammation and pain. Most recommend putting ice over the affected area three times a day for 20-30 minutes. Never apply ice directly to your skin, always wrap it in a towel first then place it over the affected area. Though it’s important to rest the joint involved, certain joints, especially the shoulder, should not be kept immobile for any longer than 24 to 48 hours. Further treatment depends on the joint affected and the type of injury you have. In some cases, immobility of the joint and taking NSAID’s is all that’s needed. If the injury is more severe, the Dr may inject a steroid, like cortisone, directly into the joint. Occasionally, in severe cases, surgery may be needed to repair the damage. In all cases, a physical and occupational therapy program should be initiated.
Prevention of repetitive motion injuries can be achieved by using ergonomically correct equipment and proper body mechanics. there are numerous products on the market from office equipment to factory equipment as well as products to help out around the house like ergonomic rakes and shovels. Use of proper body mechanics whether sitting at a desk , working on a production line or just doing chores around the house are also very important to diminishing stress on your joints. If possible, take frequent breaks to relax and stretch the joints being used. If you have suffered a repetitive injury it’s important to avoid tasks that will reinjure the joint and wear braces to support the joint(s) affected as well as participate in a rehabilitation program that is recommended by your Dr to achieve the highest level of functioning possible and improve your quality of life.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.