Repetitive motion injuries are common injuries in the US. They are caused by repetitive motions at work and surface after sporting activities, such as running or throwing a ball. These injuries, also known as RSIs, gradually emerge after time. Damage often affects the tendons, muscles, and nerves.
What Causes Repetitive Motion Injuries?
People who operate keyboards repetitively often complain of repetitive motion strains. Also, assembly line workers may be affected by this type of condition. It is not surprising that this type of injury costs companies millions of dollars a year in health costs and lost workdays.
Some of the common causes for RSIs include the following:
1. Using a Computer Mouse or a Keyboard
When a secretary or other computer user sits all day at a keyboard or uses a mouse, an injury may develop. Injuries often involve the wrist and hand and are diagnosed, in most cases, as carpal tunnel syndrome. This condition is caused by the compression of the median nerve – a nerve that travels into the hand, which is located on the palm side. The median nerve enables you to feel your thumb, index finger, a portion of the ring finger, and the long finger. The syndrome can occur in one or both hands.
If a keyboard user’s keyboard is positioned improperly, the user can experience the condition. Overextending the wrist repeatedly can worsen the condition as well. Any repeated movement, such as typing or playing the piano, can lead to the ailment.
Because of the nature of the cause, women are three times more likely to experience carpal tunnel syndrome. People who work in manufacturing, on assembly lines, in construction, and who use a keyboard are at a high risk for developing the condition.
2. Swiping Items at a Supermarket Checkout
People who work as cashiers can also suffer from RSIs. This type of repeated movement can inflame a joint or lead to compression of the median nerve.
3. Grasping Tools or Playing Tennis
Both tennis players and craftspeople can suffer tennis elbow. Tennis elbow, which is referred medically as lateral epicondylitis, defines an inflamed elbow joint caused by overuse or stress. Patients feel the pain on the lateral or outside of their elbow. However, the pain may radiate to the back of the forearm as well.
The pain is usually felt when the patient extends or straightens his arm. People who suffer tennis elbow often play racquet sports, swim, golf, or use a computer, hammer, or screwdriver frequently in their work.
The Primary Types of RSIs
RSIs come in various forms, but mainly are defined by conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, rotator cuff tendonitis, or tennis elbow. The following information elaborates on these RSIs.
1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
As noted, carpal tunnel syndrome involves compression of the median nerve – a nerve that is located on the palm side known as the carpal tunnel. While this condition is considered an RSI, it can also emerge as the result of diabetes, fluid retention, high blood pressure, or an autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis. A fracture or a trauma to the wrist can also cause the condition.
Overextending the wrist exacerbates the condition, all which can be brought about by positioning the wrists incorrectly when using a mouse or keyboard. Prolonged exposure to power tools can also trigger the condition.
Bursitis is inflammation of the bursae, or the fluid-filled sacs that are located around the joints. The bursae surround areas where bones and muscles or tendons meet. The fluid in the sacs reduces friction during movement.
Bursitis can affect various areas of the body, and is represented by the following:
Prepatellar bursitis affects the knee caps, and can be chronic or acute.
Olecranon bursitis develops around the elbows. Usually, the inflammation is chronic.
Trochanteric bursitis affects the hip joints. It may appear with other medical conditions, such as arthritis.
Retrocalcaneal bursitis causes painful swelling to the heels. The condition may be chronic or acute.
Bursitis may result from sports-related activities, repeated bending of the knees, repetitively resting the elbows on hard surfaces, improper posturing when standing or sitting, or from jumping or running.
3. Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
This RSI affects the muscles and tendons that move the shoulder joints. Also known as impingement syndrome, rotator cuff tendonitis is defined by inflammation to the tendons. An athlete who lifts his arm overhead on a continual basis may suffer from the injury. That is why the injury is also known as tennis shoulder, pitcher’s shoulder, or swimmer’s shoulder in athletic venues.
4. Tennis Elbow
This RSI affects a muscle in the forearm called the extensor carpi radialis brevis, or ECRB. Anyone who frequently works with tools, such as hammers or screwdrivers, or plays racquet sports is susceptible to developing this type of injury.
Symptoms of Repetitive Injuries
Depending on the location of the repetitive injury, symptoms can vary. An RSI primarily affects the patient’s wrists and hands, neck and shoulders, or forearms and elbow.
Symptoms can range from mildly irritating to quite painful, depending on the cause. Following are some of the main symptoms experienced by patients.
- Pain that ranges from mild to severe
- Sensitivity to heat or cold
- Symptoms start out gradually before they intensify. Even initial symptoms can impair a person from performing his or her daily tasks.
Activities that increase the risk for RSIs include the following:
- Stressing the same muscles repeatedly
- Maintaining an abnormal posture for an extended time
- Maintaining the same posture for a longer duration
- Repeatedly lifting heavy objects
- Lack of exercise
Treatment Options for Repetitive Injuries
Depending on the RSI, treatment options include the following:
- RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation
- The administration of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug – either topically or orally
- Steroid Injections
- Physical therapy and exercises prescribed by a therapist
- Relaxation training and stress reduction techniques
- Wrapping an area or splinting it to protect and rest the affected tendons and muscles
- In some cases, surgery may be recommended, especially if other remedies have been exhausted.
Tips for the Prevention of RSIs
To ensure you do not suffer from an RSI, the following tips can help:
- Adjust your chair and workstation to a position that promotes good posture as well as comfort.
- Sit in a chair that supports the lower back while keeping the feet flat. The thighs should be positioned, parallel to the ground, and the wrists, hands, and forearms should be in alignment. Keep your elbows in alignment with the keyboard to prevent overextension or strain.
- Try not to sit cross-legged.
- If possible, use a standing desk when working at a keyboard – working up to about 30 minutes at a time.
- A computer monitor should be positioned about an arm’s length away. Keep the monitor at eye level.
- Use a headset if you need to speak on the phone frequently during a workday.
It also helps to take frequent breaks. During these times, walk around or stretch, or flex your wrists.