What do a major league pitcher, a data entry clerk and an assembly line worker have in common?
Whether they’re throwing fastballs, typing or operating a piece of machinery, they’re all at risk to develop repetitive stress injuries (RSI) simply because they perform the same motions over and over again.
What is a repetitive stress injury?
RSI is a common condition affecting the tendons and muscles around the shoulder, wrist, elbow and other joints. It occurs when tiny tears in tissue from trauma or overuse can’t heal because of repeated motion in the affected area.
This can lead to:
- Tendonitis: the inflammation of a tendon, the fibrous cord that connects muscle to bone, or
- Bursitis: inflammation of the sacs (bursae) that cushion the area around your joints.
Another common RSI is carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs with repetitive motions involving the wrist. The carpal tunnel at the base of the hand is a narrow passageway of ligaments, tendons and nerves. When the tendons get inflamed, the passage narrows, putting pressure on a nerve that runs down the length of the arm, leading to tingling and numbness of the hand or shooting pain up the arm. Though computer use was once considered a major cause of carpal tunnel syndrome, that theory is no longer accepted by scientists. Some types of assembly line work in manufacturing, meat-packing, cleaning/scrubbing and sewing are more likely to cause the cause the problem.
What are the symptoms of a repetitive stress injury?
In its early stages, the pain from RSI may be relatively mild and recovery is possible using conservative methods. Left unaddressed, there is a possibility of serious damage that may require surgery.
See a doctor if:
- You experience pain when you move
- The area around a joint is red, warm or tender, or
- Pain or stiffness in a joint prevents you from performing simple activities.
How do you treat a repetitive stress injury?
Conservative treatments include:
- Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen
- Periodic icing of the area
- Rest from the activity that led to RSI to allow healing
- Wraps or bands to protect the muscle and tendons when you are in motion
More aggressive measures include:
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections
How do you prevent a repetitive stress injury?
- Take breaks from the repetitive motion when you can. Move around. Stretch.
- Don’t use the two-finger hunt-and-peck method of typing. Learn how to navigate the keyboard with two hands.
- Warm up before engaging in a sport that requires repeated motions (tennis, golf, baseball, volleyball and more). Cool down afterward.