Repetitive motion injuries – when work (and play) become painful

December 15, 2011 By Robert Carangelo, M.D.

Widespread use of computers has made more people aware of repetitive motion injuries, but there are many activities besides typing and mousing that can cause pain.

In fact, repetitive motion injuries (also called repetitive stress injuries), can result from almost any type of motion that's repeated continuously throughout our daily routines – from playing a musical instrument to performing assembly line work to running. Besides repetition of certain motions, these injuries may also be caused by trauma; certain medical conditions like gout and arthritis; awkward, unnatural motions; overexertion; poor posture; muscle fatigue; or a combination of factors.

While these injuries can occur almost anywhere in the body, they most often affect the wrists, hands, shoulders and elbows. Repetitive motion injuries affect primarily soft tissues –muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves.
The most common repetitive motion injuries are tendinitis and bursitis. Tendinitis is inflammation of the tendons that connect muscle to bone. Common types of tendinitis include tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, rotator cuff tendinitis in the shoulder and biceps tendinitis.

Bursitis is inflammation of the bursae, fluid-filled sacs found throughout the body that act as cushions between bones, tendons and muscles. Usually found near joints, bursae help protect against friction and allow easier movement. Bursitis usually occurs in the shoulder, knee, elbow, hip, heel and thumb.
Other common repetitive motion injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist, ganglion cysts in various areas of body and trigger finger.

Pain at or near the affected area is the most obvious sign of a repetitive motion injury. Other symptoms may include swelling and redness, numbness or tingling, weakness, decreased range of motion and a “grating” or “crunchy” feeling in a joint.

If you have these symptoms, see your doctor. Depending on the severity and type of your injury, he or she may recommend:

• Resting the affected area for a period of time (Exception: You should not immobilize your shoulder for more than 24 to 48 hours as significantly decreased range of motion may result)
• Icing the area two to three times daily for 20 to 30 minutes at a time (for tendinitis, ice is preferred in the short-term; moist heat for longer-term treatment)
• Over-the-counter medicines or a cortisone shot to relieve pain and inflammation
• Splints to relieve pressure on muscles and nerves
• Stretching exercises and/or physical therapy
• Ergonomic adjustments to your work environment to minimize problems
• In rare, cases surgery

Orthopedic Surgeon Robert Carangelo, M.D., is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut medical staff. For referrals to HCC physicians, please contact our free Need-A-Physician referral service by phone 800.321.6244.