During a person’s job and recreational activities, they can repeat the same motion hundreds, if not thousands, of times each week. While performing these movements would not cause damage or injury in and of themselves, constantly repeating them over and over again for an extended period of time can deteriorate the tissues. Learn about Repetitive Strain Injury!
What Is RSI?
To define repetitive strain injuries, the actions that cause them must be closely examined. Repeat movements that are performed over and over again for an indefinite period of time can begin to stress soft tissues to the point that inflammation presents itself. The longer inflammation remains, the greater the risk of scar tissue. A repetitive motion injury normally occurs in athletes or workers who must perform the same action repeatedly.
Over time, the repetitive movements can break down soft tissues in or near the joints. Tendons and ligaments can be stretched to the point where inflammation extends away from the actual “injury”. If the inflammation is allowed to persist, scar tissue can develop and lead to permanent injury. Hand cramps as well as, numbness, tingling and painful sensations, are all common depending on the level of injury that has been experienced.
Repetitive Strain Injury Symptoms
Individuals who suffer from cramps in the hands, better known as “writers cramp”, can have their livelihood dramatically impacted if the condition is allowed to persist. Symptoms of repetitive strain injury in the wrist and other joints, begin gradually. It may start out with a dull ache as a person begins to make certain movements. Over time, holding the joint in the same period for long periods of time can cause numbness and tingling to occur.
Once the hand or joint movements are changed, the feeling begins to come back causing a burning sensation, much like the “pins and needles” feelings associated with a hand or arm “falling asleep.” If the condition progresses and the inflammation remains constant, the nerves, tendons and ligaments can be irreversibly damaged.
If the condition continues, chronic pain can also be felt. In some cases, it can create the same sensations as certain types of arthritis. For individuals who experience repetitive strain injuries, the pain can remain even when they are no longer making the movements that caused the condition. Over time, the continued inflammation can not only damage the nerves, it can also cause the tendons and ligaments to become stiff and rigid. This will dramatically reduce range of motion and flexibility and will hinder what the joint can do.
Repetitive Strain Injury Treatment
There are several types of treatment for these types of injuries. Discontinuing the movement in question is the most common approach to treatment. That is not always possible, however, so other avenues may have to be explored. For individuals who must continue to perform the task in question, braces and supports can be worn that can alleviate a small percentage of the stress and strain. A firm brace can offer support and provide the joint from moving in ways that aggravate the injury and increase the inflammation.
NSAID’s (non-steroid anti inflammatory drugs) are used to reduce the inflammation associated with the injury and control pain and discomfort. Other pain medications may also be prescribed to help alleviate the chronic and acute pain that can accompany this type of injury. Both over the counter medications as well as prescription drugs are considered when treating repetitive strain injuries. For individuals who are not constantly in pain, over the counter medications are suggested by physicians. Only those who have constant pain that is not relieved by other methods are prescribed stronger, prescription medications.
Alternative therapies are also considered in the treatment of repetitive movement injuries. Massage therapy, acupuncture and trigger point therapy have been proven to provide modest results when used in conjunction with other methods of treatment. Massage therapy relieves inflammation, increases blood flow and improves mobility. Frequent massage can improve range of motion and strengthen the soft tissues, preventing repetitive stress injuries.
In severe cases, surgery is considered as a last resort. If surgery is considered, the patient normally looks into different types of employment to prevent them from having to go back to their old job and further aggravate the injury.
Conditions Associated with Repetitive Movements
There are several conditions associated with repetitive movements. The stress and strain of performing the same motion or movement over and over again will affect some people more than others. Because the stress involves soft tissues, the inflammation involved can put pressure on nerves and other tissues that can cause lasting damage. It can also weaken the overall structure of the joint and increase the risk of more severe injuries.
The following conditions are some of the most commonly diagnosed. They include:
- Occupational Overuse Syndrome – Occupational Overuse Syndrome cases are normally reported by individuals who experience symptoms associated with repetitive movements associated with their employment. Factory workers who must perform the same motion over and over again throughout the duration of their shift are commonly diagnosed with OOS.
- Epicondylitis – Epicondylitis is also known as tennis or pitcher’s elbow. It is the inflammation of the soft tissues in and around the elbow. The inflammation is caused by the repeated forward, twisting motion associated with swinging a tennis racket or pitching a softball.
- Carpal Tunnel – Carpal tunnel is the result of continued, repeat movements of the wrist and hand and are often associated with holding the hands in one position for long periods of time. Most often, this type of injury occurs in office workers, and in some cases, beauticians. The carpal tunnel is the narrow passageway that encases the nerves that allow the hand to function. Repetitive movements can cause inflammation, narrowing the passageway and causing chronic pain and discomfort.
- Cubital Tunnel – Similar to carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel occurs in people who lift and twist their elbows repeatedly during the course of their job or employment. The cubital tunnel runs through the joint of the elbow and houses the nerves that run from the shoulder to the hands. Constant movement that causes inflammation in the area, can cause the cubital tunnel to narrow, increasing pain and reducing range of motion. Both cubital and carpal tunnel are treated with the use of braces and supports that protect the joints from excessive strain.
- Bursitis – The bursa is a small sac that is filled with fluid. It acts as a cushion between the bones that make up a joint. Bursitis occurs when the bursa becomes swollen. It can be quite debilitating and will increase in severity as long as the motion is continually repeated. Bursitis interacts between muscles, tendons and ligaments preventing them from being damaged by stressful movements.
- Tendonitis – Tendons connect muscles to bones. When they are healthy, they are extremely flexible and strong, enabling a person to move their joints freely and without pain. If a person places stress and strain on a tendon, tendonitis may result. Tendonitis is the aggravation of a tendon that results in irritation and inflammation. The more severe the inflammation, the more dramatic and intense the injury. Because tendons and ligaments have fewer blood vessels than other types of soft tissue, they take much longer to heal. In some cases, it can take up to three times as long for a tendonitis injury to heal than that of a pulled muscle.
- Trigger Finger – A trigger finger is a finger that becomes stuck or frozen in a particular positions. Most often, the finger is bent as if someone is going to pull the trigger of a gun. Trigger fingers are often caused by holding fingers in a particular positions for extended periods of time. The inflammation that results from this type of movement can put pressure on the nerves of the finger causing it to remain bent.
Movements that are performed over and over again normally will not do any harm if they are discontinued after a short period of time. When the movements are continued for long periods of time, the inflammation and discomfort can become quite severe. In most cases, the use of a brace or support may relieve some of the discomfort, but in the long run, the only way to eliminate the pain associated with this type of movement is to discontinue the activity.