Repetitive motion injuries (also called repetitive strain injuries or RSI) are one of the most common ailments around the world. Over half of sports-related injuries happen due to repetitive motion. Plenty of work-related issues, both in the blue-collar and white-collar world, are also linked to RSI. RSI is an inflammation in a specific area, one that happens after repetitive use of a limb for extended periods of time. Fortunately, most repetitive motion injuries are temporary – and can be easily fixed, as long as the root issue is dealt with. More often than not, rest and physical therapy will be enough to treat this issue. In severe cases, medical treatment will be necessary.
What is a Repetitive Motion Injury?
Repetitive motion injury is temporary or permanent damage to nerves, ligaments, muscles, or bones. This type of injury happens after performing repetitive and monotonous movements for extended periods of time. Both sedentary and active people can suffer from RSI. Athletes who repeat the same movements over and over, such as weightlifters or tennis players, are often associated with this type of injury. Office workers, who type for hours on end every day, are also common subjects to RSI.
What Are The Symptoms of a Repetitive Motion Injury?
RSI is a type of injury that can affect a lot of body parts in different ways. If problems arise when doing something repetitively, that’s reason enough to believe you’re suffering from RSI. (You should see a doctor to get a professional opinion though). More specific symptoms include:
- Pain or tenderness
- A tingling sensation shooting down from the injury
- Cramping or stiffness
- An overall sense of weakness in the area
If you feel any of these symptoms, you should rest until they go away. If the symptoms don’t subdue, you need to visit a doctor to see what kind of treatment is needed for your injury.
What Are Some Common Repetitive Motion Injuries?
An inflammation or tear in the tendon. Tendinitis is the number one concern when it comes to repetitive motion injuries – and most of the time the most prevalent one. Repetitive use of the arm, legs, back, and most of the body can lead to tendinitis.
Inflammation in the fluid-filled pads near the elbow, shoulder, or knee joint. Tenderness and pain are common symptoms of bursitis. The bursa (the pads filled with fluid) are there to prevent bone friction. When they become inflamed after repetitive motion, they compress bones and nerves causing pain.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Compression of the nerve that goes through the wrist. It often happens to office workers who are typing multiple hours per day. It can also happen to musicians who spend hours playing the guitar every day. Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms are often a numbing of the forearm and pain shooting through the arm to the hand.
A common sports-related injury that affects plenty of athletes, such as weightlifters, rowers, tennis players, skiers, and many more. After repetitive use of the arms and hands, a painful inflammation happens in the forearm. This injury affects specific muscles, most of them located near or around the wrist.
Rotator Cuff Syndrome
Impingement around the shoulder area that can affect any of the muscles related to shoulder movement. It often starts as discomfort or a numbing sensation but can quickly turn into a painful injury. If left untreated, the shoulder impingement can turn into a partial tear – and even worse from there.
How Can I Treat This Type of Injury?
Here are some common things you can try to help alleviate some of the pain from RSI:
The very first recommendation for people suffering from RSI is to rest. Since this happens because of repetitive motion, the best thing to do is to stop doing that movement, at least for a little while until symptoms subdue.
Sometimes, this isn’t possible. For example, some people can’t stop going to work just because they are hurting – but that doesn’t mean they can’t take rests at work. If resting for long periods of time is impossible, five to ten minute breaks several times a day may be necessary to deal with repetitive motion injuries. Just talk to your boss/supervisor and try to make arrangements for this to happen. When RSI is starting to flare, it’s time to rest.
2. Movement re-education
When resting isn’t enough (or impossible to do properly), the next step would be to re-train your body to perform certain activities differently. Sometimes, RSI happens because of incorrect movements performed over and over again – and changing the way you do things can fix your issues. For example, a worker who is lifting boxes all the time would benefit from bending over and picking up boxes differently. That worker probably has back-related RSI because he uses his lumbar muscles, instead of his legs, to pick up the boxes.
3. Physical therapy
More serious cases of RSI will need help from professionals. Physical therapy is necessary to deal with issues that are on the way to becoming permanent and a chronic ailment. For example, golfer’s elbow usually needs physical therapy to go back to normal. This, of course, has to be paired up with rest and other rehab exercises you can do at home. Physical therapy is the best way to deal with RSI – even if you believe your injury isn’t a big problem yet. PT sessions are a great way to prevent injuries as well as dealing with them.
4. Self-care at home
A good alternative to physical therapy is taking care of yourself at home. Stretching, deep-tissue release, and physical exercise are great tools you can use to deal with repetitive motion injuries. Another great option that you can do yourself at home, is applying cold therapy to your injury to reduce some of the pain. In fact, some people have great success in mixing up cold and hot therapy (e.g.: alternating between a heating pad and ice wrap). You can experiment between one versus the other (or switching back and forth) to see what works best for you.
Self-care at home doesn’t necessarily have to happen at home, you can also rehab at the gym. Strengthening certain muscles is one way to prevent injury – and to rehabilitate when the injury has already happened. Just make sure you consult your doctor before starting anything on your own.
5. Medical treatment
In extreme scenarios, medical treatment is going to be necessary to deal with RSI. Steroid injections are the first method most doctors tend to suggest – and, as a last resort, they may recommend surgery depending on your particular situation.
We hope that this gives you a good general idea on what you are dealing with when it comes to RSI. If you have had any success in dealing with this type of injury, we’d love to hear from you. Please share your experience using the comment box below. Until next time!
Disclaimer – Please keep in mind that the information we posted above is to give you a general idea on what repetitive motion injuries are all about and some tips that we have accumulated from our own experience and from our clients in the past. It is crucial that you consult a doctor to get a proper assessment of your own situation, before starting any form of treatment on your own.