Ways to Prevent Repetitive Stress Injury

Cases of repetitive strain injury are on the rise. This is due to the increase in the use of technological devices and the lack of prevention. Learn how to prevent and treat this common category of injury in this article.
Ways to Prevent Repetitive Stress Injury

Last update: 25 August, 2021

A repetitive stress injury often affects a bone, muscle, tendon, or ligament due to the constant exerting force on the same area of the body without allowing time for recovery.

Also known as RSI, this type of problem has increased considerably in the past 20 years. It mainly affects adults although more and more children are presenting this type of problem.

Modern technological devices have increased the incidence of repetitive strain injury. There are various types and thus many ways to treat it. Furthermore, psychological stress and monotony increase the severity of these symptoms.

Causes and risk factors for repetitive stress injury

A person holding their leg.
Knees can be injured due to training.

The main cause of repetitive stress injury is doing the same movements over and over, either continuously or intensely for long periods of time. This includes maintaining the same posture, especially an uncomfortable one.

The risk of RSI increases in those in poor physical shape who lead a sedentary lifestyle. In turn, frequent heavy lifting can also cause it.

The most prone to repetitive strain injury are those who perform a mechanical type of activity for long periods of time. Musicians, drivers, cooks, cleaners, dental hygienists, typists, and those who use vibrating tools regularly, among others.

The most common type of repetitive stress injury

There are more than 1700 types of repetitive strain injuries and usually affect industrial workers, office workers, and anyone who uses electronic devices such as cell phones, laptops, etc. for long periods of time.

Currently, the most common injuries of this type are:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome manifests as numbness in the hand and arm. This is due to the pinching of a nerve in the wrist and often causes tingling.
  • Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac in the knee, shoulder, elbow, and hip joints.
  • Rotator cuff tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons that connect the bones and muscles in the shoulder.
  • Tennis elbow is an irritation of the tissue that connects the elbow to the forearm muscle.
  • Raynaud’s disease causes a contraction of the blood vessels of the extremities in cold or stressful situations. It’s due to the use of vibrating tools.
  • Intersection syndrome is the inflammation of the muscles of the forearm, caused by repetitive flexion and extension of the wrist.
  • Stenosing tenosynovitis or trigger finger happens when a finger gets stuck when flexed and when straightening it produces a snapping sound. It’s the result of a strong and repeated grip.
  • Other repetitive stress injuries include writer’s cramp, various forms of tendonitis and tendinosis, cubital tunnel syndrome, De Quervain’s tenosynovitis, thoracic outlet syndrome, etc.

Symptoms

There’s a wide range of symptoms in repetitive strain injury but pain is the most common. It ranges from mild to severe and usually increases over time. In addition, it’s usually localized and acute.

Other common symptoms are the following:

  • Swelling
  • A throbbing sensation in the affected area
  • Tingling
  • Stiffness or difficulty with movement
  • Loss of strength or sensation in the affected area
  • Weakness in the area
  • Sensitivity to cold or heat

Most commonly, symptoms increase gradually until they become intense and constant. Once they reach that point it can be difficult to perform the usual tasks.

Diagnosis

A physician must diagnose based on an interview and physical examination. They’ll inquire about any repetitive tasks you do and may also do some tests to determine the range of motion in a given area.

There are times when it’s necessary to conduct complementary tests such as an ultrasound or electromyography to determine the extent of damage caused by the injury. Generally speaking, there are two main groups of repetitive strain injuries:

Available treatments for repetitive stress injury

The treatment of RSI will depend on its degree of severity and location. It usually requires one of the following measures:

  • Physicians advise limiting or avoiding the repetitive activity that’s causing the injury.
  • Changes in training. They also suggest changes in the form people train.
  • Heat or cold help reduce inflammation and pain, one at a time but alternating them as well.
  • Doctors usually prescribe anti-inflammatory pain relievers and muscle relaxants: antidepressants are sometimes effective and sleeping pills if the person can’t sleep due to the pain.
  • Elastic supports and splints often provide support and help reduce inflammation.
  • Physical therapy includes exercises, the use of braces, splints, and education to cope with daily tasks and keep the injury from worsening.
  • Steroids are injections prescribed for specific cases, as they lead to many side effects.
  • Severe cases may require surgery.

When’s a medical check-up necessary?

A repetitive strain injury is much more manageable if you attend to it in the early stages. You can reach a point where the situation becomes irreversible if you let too much time go by.

The first symptom of a repetitive stress injury is pain so consult a physician as soon as possible. The situation may not have major consequences if treated early.

Prevention and recommendations

Stretching is a good way to deal with repetitive stress injury.
Stretching is essential to prevent repetitive stress injury.

Prevention is the best way to avoid a repetitive stress injury. Performing any type of physical activity that requires continuous repetition of movements also requires taking precautions to decrease the risk.

Athletes must vary their training regularly, get enough rest throughout the year, and schedule recovery activities.

The following tips may be helpful to everyone:

  • Avoid bad posture. The ears and back should remain in a straight line with the pelvis, both when standing and sitting.
  • Don’t maintain the same posture for a long time, whether standing or sitting. Take regular breaks and change posture to prevent problems.
  • Wrists, arms, and fingers must align when typing.
  • Don’t press the keys too hard when typing on a keyboard and use voice dictation as much as you can.
  • Try not to hold objects tightly and don’t keep them in your hand for a long time. This applies to the mouse, cell phones, and any other tool.
  • Opt for a chair that covers the entire back and head if you work at a desk and with a computer. The screen should be at eye level and your feet should touch the floor at all times.
  • Stretch regularly; do so every hour or so if you must continue to do the same activity or hold the same posture.
  • Follow all industrial safety instructions for your specific trade.

Prevention is better than a cure

The prognosis of repetitive strain injury depends on the severity of the injury and your general state of health. Prevention is the best course of action, so apply all measures to keep it from happening to you.

In general, don’t do any repetitive activity for more than 30 minutes without taking a break. In fact, the chances of injury will considerably decrease just by following this simple guideline.

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