Guide to Repetitive Stress Injuries
A repetitive stress injury (RSI) is a type of cumulative trauma that results from prolonged stress on a body part, such as the neck, arms or back, due to continual repetition of the same motion. Most repetitive stress injuries result from the types of jobs where you repeat the same task for hours at a time, such as assembly line manufacturing work. Muscles, ligaments, nerves or tendons can become damaged by this overuse, resulting in symptoms like:
Sometimes repetitive stress injuries can result in full loss of functionality in hands and arms. There are more than 100 kinds of injuries attributed to repetitive stress but they are most often seen in places on the body where joints come together, including the shoulders, heels, elbows and knees. Essentially, any of these areas are prime targets for repetitive stress injuries.
Who is at Risk for Repetitive Stress Injuries?
There are three main factors associated with a repetitive stress injury, including poor technique, poor posture and overuse. The following risk factors are associated with this injury:
- Prolonged computer use
- High-pressure work environment
- Lack of breaks from repetitive activities
- Loose joints
- Excess weight
- Inadequate exercise
- Lack of sleep
- Other medical conditions
In these days of high technology, many people don’t think about how computer use can lead to repetitive stress injuries, but the constant motion of typing can lead to problems with the fingers and hands, while poor posture at the computer can lead to prolonged chronic back problems and pain.
How Are Repetitive Stress Injuries Diagnosed?
Diagnosis usually is made based on the symptoms and how the injured area is used for work or sports. Doctors may order diagnostic imaging to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms, such as fractures or tears in the soft tissues. Doctors must first determine that there’s no root cause behind the problem, such as a pre-existing medical condition that might be the cause. Once these have been ruled out, the doctor will often ask about occupation or lifestyle. This is where the repetitive stress injury diagnosis usually comes in.
Treatment for Repetitive Stress Injuries
The goal of treatment for repetitive stress injuries is to help the patient gain mobility and strength and to alleviate the pain. Generally, pain can be controlled with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like naproxen or ibuprofen. Cold packs, firm splints, elastic support bandages and heat can also help to alleviate discomfort. If these conventional methods fail to control the pain, your doctor may recommend steroid injections to alleviate pain and inflammation. After the acute stage, you may undergo occupational therapy to help rebuild strength in the affected area and to learn how to prevent this injury from recurring.
It is important that you not only cure the current repetitive stress injury but prevent it from returning. Your doctor will give you tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as stretching and exercising, as well as other tips to prevent the injury from returning. For example, if your occupation requires a lot of heavy lifting, you may be given a series of stretches to perform before your shift that will help eliminate any issues that can arise from your daily activity.
Preventing Repetitive Stress Injuries
Preventing a repetitive stress injury starts with proper posture and ensuring your workstation is properly set up. Other prevention techniques include:
- Take breaks
- Use a workstation is that is ergonomically optimized
- Exercise regularly
- Limit computer time when possible
- Warm up before activities
- Stretch and strengthen the muscles
- Wear comfortable clothing that allows for easy movement
- Vary activities and movements
- Be mindful of your body and stance
The main key is to take notice of your posture and movements. Your routine can often feel so natural you don’t even notice that your posture is out of line or your sitting position is doing your body no favors. Take stock of your routine and you will be able to pinpoint the problem area, then work on them to make sure repetitive stress injuries don’t start creeping into your life.
Dos and Don’ts for Repetitive Stress Injuries
When it comes to repetitive stress injuries, there are some things you need to do and a few things you want to avoid to prevent the injury from getting worse.
Do the following:
- Stop using the injured body part as soon as you notice symptoms
- Visit your doctor to have the injury evaluated
- Adjust your technique to avoid re-injuring the area
It may seem natural to just work on through the problem, continuing your work and hoping it will just go away. Any doctor will tell you this is the opposite of what you should be doing and that all you’re really accomplishing here is making the injury much worse. The second you notice the injury you should cease using the injured body part altogether until you’ve received treatment.
Don’t do the following:
- Never attempt to treat the injury yourself
- Never skip a warm-up before physical activity
- Never work through pain and discomfort
Most people who experience repetitive stress injuries will fully recover from the injury. It is important to seek treatment because if this type of injury goes untreated it can lead to permanent injury and the injured area can suffer a complete loss of function. But unlike other types of injuries, the outlook for repetitive stress injuries is generally favorable. The odds are that you’ll be able to go about living your life after treatment. As long as you take steps to treat the issue and see professional help, a repetitive stress injury doesn’t have to be a lifelong problem.