Repetitive stress syndrome * occurs when a frequently repeated voluntary action causes pain, muscle strain, inflammation, and possible tissue damage. Repetitive motion problems, also called repetitive stress injuries, are the most common form of occupational (workplace) illness.
As a member of the high school tennis team, John served with accuracy and overwhelmed his opponents with his backhand. He worked harder and practiced more than any other team member. Major college scouts were looking him over. During a major tournament, however, John felt pain and swelling where the tendons join the bones at the elbow. His repeated practice of straightening his elbow and extending his wrist— especially during his back swing—had caused small tears in the tendon and muscle. The doctor diagnosed epicondylitis (eh-pih-kon-di-LYE-tis), a classic case of tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow and runner's knee are just two of the common names for a range of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), which result from repeated movements that stress the tendons, ligaments, joint capsules, fascia (FASH-ee-a), and other soft tissues that surround or attach to muscles and bones. RSIs can cause inflammation * of the neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, hips, legs, and ankles.
People at highest risk include office workers using computer keyboards, factory workers using sewing machines or working on assembly lines, warehouse workers, athletes, and dancers who damage ankles and hips. Common RSIs include the following:
Although most RSIs occur in adults, young people who spend too much time on computer keyboards, playing sports, or practicing on musical instruments also are at risk.
Warning signs of repetitive stress injuries include the following:
The doctor's physical examination and medical history usually will reveal the repetitive motion that has stressed the soft tissue and caused the injury. The doctor may recommend x-rays or blood tests to rule out other causes.
Prevention always works better than treatment. Proper warm-ups and cool-downs, frequent rests, and improved ergonomic rules for the workplace are important preventive measures. Ergonomics is the science of adapting tools and equipment to the human body—for example, chairs and desks that can be adjusted to fit the body of the user may help to prevent repetitive strain injuries. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has created new standards for workplace safety to reduce the number of cases of repetitive stress syndrome.
See also Arthritis • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome • Knee Injuries: Overview • Shin Splints • Strains and Sprains • Tendinitis • Tennis Elbow (Epicondylitis)
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Johnson, Jim. Treat Your Own Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Treatment and Prevention Strategies for Individuals, Therapists, and Employers. Indianapolis, IN: Dog Ear, 2014.
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Typing Injury FAQ (TIFAQ). “Repetitive Stress Injury.” http://tifaq.com/category/repetitive-stress-injury-2/ (accessed November 15, 2015).
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 9400 W. Higgins Rd., Rosemont, IL 60018. Telephone: 847-823-7186. Website: http://www.aaos.org (accessed August 12, 2015).
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. 1 AMS Circle, Bethesda, MD 20892. Telephone: 301-495-4484. Website: http://www.niams.nih.gov (accessed August 25, 2015).
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. PO Box 5801, Bethesda, MD 20824. Telephone: 301-496-5751. Website: http://www.ninds.nih.gov (accessed August 24, 2015).
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30329. Toll-free: 800-232-4636. Website: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh (accessed August 12, 2015).
* syndrome means a group or pattern of symptoms or signs that occur together.
* inflammation (in-fla-MAY-shun) is the body's reaction to irritation, infection, or injury that often involves swelling, pain, redness, and warmth.