Repeating Same Movements Every Day Can Lead To Painful Symptoms
Throughout a typical day, you use your hands, wrists, and elbows almost constantly. From vigorously brushing your teeth in the morning, to switching the lights off before bed, and during just about every other action in between, these joints are frequently in a state of movement. But over time, performing certain tasks on a repetitive basis can lead to damage and injury.
Certain professions are associated with higher risks for pain
Occupational overuse syndrome, also known as repetitive strain injury (RSI), is a potentially disabling condition that results from overusing a region of the body–usually the hands, wrists, or elbows–through repetition of similar movements. As the name suggests, workplace habits and behaviors are some of the most common culprits of occupational overuse syndrome because they require repeating certain movements to complete the job at hand. Nearly any occupation that involves the hands and wrists can contribute to occupational overuse syndrome, but certain activities and equipment are more likely to increase the risk, such as the following:
- Vibrating equipment
- Working in a cold environment
- Carrying heavy loads
- Working with furniture, tools, or equipment that is not ergonomically designed (doesn’t comfortably conform to one’s body)
- Working long hours without breaks
- Holding the same posture or position for prolonged periods
- Working with machinery that is too fast for user comfort
As a result, some of the most at-risk occupations are those that involve office work (ie, any job performed on a computer), process work (eg, assembly line and packing), piece work (eg, sewing), and manual work (eg, bricklaying and carpentry). Professionals who use vibrating tools—like hairdressers and tattoo artists—as well as musicians, mail workers, kitchen workers, and cleaners all tend to have an elevated risk for RSIs as well. But this doesn’t mean that someone must work in a particular field to develop this type of condition. Various sports, as well as leisure and recreational activities like playing video games, scrolling on a cellphone, and gardening can lead to strain and painful symptoms, too.
A wide range of conditions fall under the umbrella of occupation overuse syndrome or RSIs, including bursitis, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, Guyon canal syndrome, golfer’s elbow, tennis elbow, Dupuytren’s contracture, and trigger finger (we will discuss several of these conditions in the next few posts). Symptoms vary depending on the specific condition present, but some of the more general symptoms are:
- Tenderness or a burning, aching, or shooting pain in the affected muscle or joint
- A throbbing or pulsating sensation in the affected area
- Tingling (especially the hand or arm)
- Loss of sensation/numbness or clumsiness
- Fatigue or weakness that makes it difficult to perform basic tasks
Tips to reduce your risk at the workplace
Since many of these conditions result from activities that one must perform in their occupation, the best way to prevent occupation overuse syndrome from occurring is by modifying certain movements and activities to reduce the strain placed on the body. Here are a few helpful tips to reduce your risk:
- Adjust your posture and the positioning of your hands and wrists
- Try to keep your shoulders square rather than rolled forward when sitting, standing, and walking
- Try to perform tasks with the arms at a comfortable distance from the body (not too close and not too far)
- Keep your wrists in a neutral position that’s parallel to the ground, or slightly bent downwards towards the keyboard; avoid flexing your wrists and angling them upwards to reach the keyboard
- Try to avoid repetitive straining movements
- Pay attention to how you use your hands when performing tasks at work and elsewhere, especially those that are done repeatedly
- Avoid tasks that require constant bending or twisting of your hands; if these movements are part of your profession, try to take frequent short breaks, switch hands, and rotate tasks whenever possible
- Modify your workstation positioning and habits
- Make sure your forearms are level and wrists are not flexed and in a neutral position when you type
- Don’t rest your wrists on the table surface
- Try to avoid reaching too far on the keyboard with one hand
- Change your hand positions often and take frequent breaks
Physical therapy is an ideal approach for occupation overuse syndrome
If occupation overuse syndrome develops, it’s best to take a hands-on approach and see a physical therapist. The first step of every encounter with a physical therapist is a detailed interview about any factors that could be contributing to a patient’s symptoms. If the physical therapist then determines that the patient’s profession is likely to be responsible for their symptoms, he or she will offer specific recommendations to reduce the amount of stress and strain on the injured region(s) of the body, which may include the use of ergonomic tools and equipment. The therapist will also create a personalized treatment program designed to alleviate pain and improve physical function with carefully selected interventions, such as stretching exercises, strengthening exercises, posture training, passive modalities, and manual (hands-on) therapy.
In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at three RSIs: carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, and Guyon canal syndrome.
August 3, 2021
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