Repetitive Strain Injury

If you do activities that use the same area of your body over and over, you may already know about repetitive strain injury (RSI). This happens when you do the same motion like typing, running, lifting, bending, over and over during the course of the day. Many people mention the words “carpal tunnel syndrome” which is one of the repetitive motion disorders(RMD). Repetitive Strain injuries and disorders are characterized by joint pain, nerve pain, and muscle pain in one of the limbs.

What Is Repetitive Strain Injury?

A repetitive strain injury happens when doing repetitive motions with a particular body part that can cause pain and dysfunction in the limb. These injuries are classified as either a Type 1 disorder (An actual repetitive motion disorder that can be identified) or a Type 2 disorder (the actual location of the injury cannot be identified).

There are numerous muscle and nerve disorders that result from repetitive use including:

Type 1 Disorders

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Tendonitis
  • Writer’s cramp
  • Tennis elbow
  • Dupuytren’s contracture
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Pain moves to different areas
  • Symptoms do not point to any of the above disorders
  • There is no evidence of inflammation

Type 2 Disorders

Repetitive strain injuries progress in stages. When RSI treatment is started early, the better chance of total healing of the injury. If you don’t get treatment early, the injury could become chronic.

What Are the Symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury?

The symptoms of a repetitive strain injury often depend on the affected limb and the actual injury. Most often, the symptoms happen when you are performing the task that caused the injury. Sometimes, they appear on a constant basis or during sleep. They may also come and go with rest. Symptoms of an RSI are:

  • Less strength in extremity
  • Lack of sensation in extremity
  • Tender muscles or joints
  • Sensation of “pins and needles”
  • Sensation of throbbing or pulsation
  • Pain to the affected extremity, joint or muscle

When to See a Doctor

Any symptoms of RSI that may be job related should be reported to your employer. They can refer you to a company doctor and help you make necessary modifications to your work area to help reduce injury and your symptoms.

If the injury is not related to your job, see your regular doctor for an evaluation and treatment. The sooner you seek RSI treatment the better.

What Are the Causes of Repetitive Strain Injury?

The causes of repetitive strain injury are usually due to doing tasks that involve repetitive motion of muscles and tendons in the wrists, hands, elbows, shoulders, neck, back, and forearms. The following tasks tend to raise the risk of RSI:

  • Constant use of a computer keyboard (RSI wrist)
  • Heavy lifting and carrying objects that are heavy
  • Activities that involve the same actions over and over
  • Doing the same activity on a constant basis without taking breaks
  • Using improper posture during activities
  • Use of equipment that vibrates
  • Cold working conditions

There are times when stress related to work may bring on RSI pain. If you have an overly demanding job with deadlines and little teamwork in your work environment, you may need to have your employer make extra accommodations on the job.

What Are the Treatments for Repetitive Strain Injury?

Treatment for rsi is directed at relieving pain and improving strength to the affected area. This includes:

  1. Pain relievers – Most commonly, doctors use an anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling to the area and pain.
  2. Splinting – Immobilizing the area can prevent further injury and allow the area to heal.
  3. Heat and cold – Alternating hot packs with cold packs can help reduce swelling and increase blood flow to the area.
  4. Ace wraps – Wrapping the limb with an elastic ace wrap can help provide support.
  5. Cortisone injections – For severe inflammation, steroid injections to the area can help reduce swelling and severe pain.
  6. Sleep medications – If you have trouble sleeping at night due to pain, your doctor may prescribe a short course of sleep medications.
  7. Physical therapy visits – You may need physical therapy to help heal the injury and strengthen the area to prevent further injury. They may also have you try swimming, yoga, walking, and home exercises.
  8. Occupational therapy – If you have severe problems associated with on-the-job repetitive strain, you may be referred to occupational therapy to help you learn ways to relieve the strain. The therapist may help you in these ways:
  • Proper posture while working on the computer.
  • Proper lifting techniques for heavy work.
  • Stress relief techniques.
  • Adaptive items to make work on your body easier.

Repetitive Strain Injury Prevention Tips

Preventing repetitive strain injury is done with “ergonomics.” These are proper body positions to use when working to prevent injury. Use these “ergonomics” when doing repetitive tasks at work:

  • Support your arms. If you sit at a desk all day, make sure you support the weight of your arms. Your arms should be just a little higher than your waist at your desk and no lower. This will prevent neck and shoulder strain.
  • Work with your neck in a straight line. Avoid pushing your head and neck forward while working. Keep your neck upright in a straight line.
  • Don’t squeeze the phone with your ear. Don’t use your shoulder and ear to hold the phone. Ask your employer for a headset or use speaker phone if you need to use your hands for something else.
  • Bundle up or dress down for extreme temperatures. If you work outside in the cold, protect your muscles and joints by dressing in warm layers. If you work outside in the heat, wear cool clothing that wicks the sweat.
  • Use protective equipment. Personal protection equipment can help prevent strains on the job. If you do a lot of heavy lifting, use a back brace. If you do a lot of typing, use wrist wraps. Your employer may provide these at no cost.
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