How Repetitive Stress Injuries Develop, and How to Fix Them

We often hear about repetitive stress injuries, and how they affect millions of Americans each year. Yet there are still a great many misconceptions around these types of injuries, and in many cases, people don’t recognize them when they appear. The effect on quality of life can be anywhere from mild to severe — and if symptoms are mild, people are even more likely to ignore the problem and simply “suffer through it.”

Understanding what repetitive stress injuries are, how they develop, and how they can be treated is the key to minimizing or eliminating symptoms.

What is a repetitive stress injury (RSI)?

This is a term for injuries that result from repetitive movements. The majority of RSIs occur in the arms and hands, but it’s possible to incur an RSI in other areas of the body as well. You’ll also hear the term “non-specific limb pain” or “work-related limb disorders” to describe repetitive stress injuries.

Essentially, the repetitive stress causes pain and damage to the tendons, nerves and muscles. Over time, symptoms can worsen and become chronic if left untreated. The most common areas for RSI are the hands, wrists, shoulders, elbows, and neck.

What are the symptoms?

You’ll rarely see the symptoms of RSI occur all at once. A gradual progression is normal, and can include a number of uncomfortable sensations including pain, stiffness, numbness, aching, tingling, cramps, or weakness. Swelling can also occur as the condition continues to progress.

What are the main causes of RSI?

When looking for the source of an RSI, you’re obviously looking for repetitive motions in your daily activities, or long periods of specific activity without adequate rest periods. Carpel tunnel syndrome is a great example. More people than ever work all day at computers, making repetitive motions with the wrists and fingers for hours at a stretch. This leads to millions of repetitive stress injuries every year. Failure to maintain good posture can also cause or exacerbate repetitive stress injuries. Stress, cold, and constant vibrations (such as operating heaving machinery) can also be factors.

What treatment options are available?

Treatment will obviously depend on the specific nature of the injury, but will often involve anti-inflammatory agents and icing to bring down swelling and calm the muscles and nerves in the affected area. Supports and splints may also be used, especially when dealing with injuries like “tennis elbow” that comes from a repeated swinging or throwing motion.

Chiropractic treatment is another viable option for many repetitive stress injuries, since these injuries can often create imbalances in the joints. An expert chiropractic professional knows how to find and correct imbalances in the joints that may be causing pain in the muscles and nerves. Therapeutic massage, yoga, and other natural therapies are also popular with RSI patients.

Finally, it’s important to adjust behaviors and postures to minimize recurrence of the injury. An RSI can be effectively treated using a combination of the above-mentioned techniques, but the problem will ultimately resurface unless the underlying behaviors that caused the injury are addressed.