Repetitive stress injuries are very common, and around two million workers report a repetitive stress injury every single year. In the medical profession, they classify this type of injury as a Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorder. It happens to people who routinely do constant repetitive tasks throughout their day, and it affects the nervous and musculoskeletal systems.
Unfortunately, the more you make the repetitive motion, the worse the injury can get, and the more pain you can feel on a daily basis. Along with repetitive tasks, other factors contribute to this condition including keeping your extremities in awkward or strained positions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or repeated forceful exertions.
Risk Factors for a Repetitive Stress Injury
Some people are at a higher risk to develop a repetitive stress injury, and they’re generally split up into two different categories.
- Non-Occupational Risk Factors – The first category is non-occupational risk factors. One of the biggest risk factors is age because the chances of developing this type of injury increase as you age. Additionally, having lower muscle mass and smaller frames increase your risk as well as certain lifestyle choices like smoking and alcohol consumption.
- Occupational Risk Factors – The second broad category is occupational risk factors. It’s important to note that this injury isn’t typically the result of one traumatic event, but rather by cumulative trauma to the area. Jobs that require repetitive motions like typing can increase your chances of developing a repetitive stress injury.
Common Repetitive Stress Injuries
There are several common medical conditions that fall under the category of repetitive stress injuries.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Your carpal tunnel is a small inch wide tunnel that runs through your wrist, and your small wrist bones surround it. The main nerve bundle runs through your carpal tunnel, and carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the tissue around the tendons on the top of your carpal tunnel swell and press on the nerves.
When this happens, it’s common to experience tingling, numbness, and weakness in the hands and traveling up the arms. You may find that it flares up after you use it during the day, and it’s common to experience worsening symptoms at night. These symptoms can start very gradually and rapidly get worse.
- Golfer’s Elbow
Your tendons run the length of your forearm and attach directly to the bone on the inside of your elbow. When the tendons in the muscles start to get inflamed due to repetitive clenching of your fingers or repetitively using your wrists, you can develop golfer’s elbow. This condition is also common with tennis players.
One of the most common symptoms of this injury is tenderness or pain on the inside of your elbow where the tendon attaches to the bone. You may feel stiffness and pain when you try to form a fist, and you might develop marked weakness in your hands and wrists. The pain levels can come on very quickly and tend to go away or decrease with rest.
Your tendons attach your muscles to your skeletal system, and they can get inflamed or irritated with repeated use. Tendonitis is a broad term used to describe this inflammation, and it typically occurs in the wrists, elbows, shoulders, heels, and knees.
These symptoms are typically gradual in nature, and you might start to notice a dull ache in your joints when you try to move them in certain ways. Mild swelling is another common symptom of tendonitis, as well as tenderness in the affected area.
- Tennis Elbow
Unlike golfer’s elbow, tennis elbow refers to inflammation of the tendons that connect your forearm muscles to the outside of your elbow. This inflammation can happen due to repetitive motion, like playing tennis or participating in other racquet sports. It’s a common condition for people who are bartenders.
You might start to notice tingling or a dull ache on the outside of your elbow. It may also start to swell. It can travel down your arm and cause you to have very weak grip strength, so dropping things is common. Tennis elbow usually goes away on its own with rest.
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a broad term that covers a group of disorders. When trauma or repeated motions cause the nerves in this area to compress, you can develop Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
This syndrome can cause numbness and pain in your shoulders that radiates downwards to your arms and to your wrists or hands. You may also notice a weakness when you try to grip onto anything. Use physical therapy and rest treat it.
- Trigger Finger
There are long cord-like tendons that start in your forearms and run the lengths of your fingers. When you contract your muscles, these tendons let you bend your fingers. Your tendons go through a small sheath at the base of your fingers, and when this gets inflamed due to repetitive motions, you can develop trigger finger.
This can cause the tendon to have trouble passing seamlessly through the sheath, and this can lead to a painful popping or pulling sensation when you bend your finger. In severe cases, the tendon can lock into place, and your fingers can get stuck in a bent position that can require surgery to fix.
Diagnosing Repetitive Stress Injuries
It can be very difficult to diagnose this type of injury because there are no concrete tests to check for tendon inflammation or to rule out the tingling and numbness that typically come with these injuries. The symptoms are usually more gradual, and they’re not the result of trauma, which adds another layer of difficulty to diagnosing it.
Generally, your physician will do a physical exam and ask questions about your discomfort levels. They’ll ask when the symptoms tend to get worse and when they go away. Based on this information, they’ll usually diagnose you with either:
- Type 1 RSI – This is a musculoskeletal disorder. People usually have inflammation or swelling in one area or in specific tendons.
- Type 2 RSI – This type is usually related to nerve damage. There is usually a feeling of pain or discomfort, but no other symptoms.
Treating Repetitive Stress Injuries
There are a few different treatment options available depending on the severity of your symptoms, and your doctor will help you decide on the best plan. The treatment options include:
- Heat or cold
- Medications, like anti-inflammatories and pain control
- Physical therapy
- Splints or braces
- Steroid Injections
Living with these types of injuries can be debilitating, and if you have questions, concerns, or if you’d like to have a free consultation with a licensed professional, contact us today.