Every day it’s the same old, same old -- long hours on the computer with the occasional break to read a report or go to a meeting. Now your right wrist and hand are hurting and you can’t think of anything you’ve done to cause that burning feeling. Heads up and pay attention, because you might have a repetitive motion injury. Left untreated, it may become a permanent disability.
Repetitive Motion Injury
Repetitive motion injury, repetitive stress injury and cumulative trauma disorder are all names for the same thing. This condition occurs from performing the same motion repeatedly, or from assuming an awkward posture that puts stress on your bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons. Pain, swelling, numbness, tingling and stiffness are common symptoms of repetitive motion injury. Carpenters can get it from swinging a hammer or squeezing a nail gun, office workers can get it from using a keyboard and mouse, truck drivers can get it from constant vibration and poor posture.
Inflammation and Pain
Repetitive motion injury usually begins with inflammation in the area that’s being over-used. Your wrist might be tender and sore to touch. Fluid can accumulate around tendons, and since tendons are covered with tough tissue called a sheath that doesn’t stretch readily, the fluid has nowhere to go, and can cause pressure on the tendons or surrounding nerves. These problems can develop in any joint, but your hands, wrists and elbows are particularly susceptible because you use them so frequently.
Your back is also a potential trouble spot. When your mother nagged you about standing up straight, she was -- as mothers so often are -- right on the money. Poor posture stresses your spine, and over the long term can cause neck or back pain. Twisting or bending from the waist can make things worse, especially if you’re the couch-potato type who considers pushing the buttons on the remote to be a workout. Unless you regularly perform exercises that strengthen the muscles of your core -- the abdomen, trunk and buttocks -- all that twisting and bending can result in chronic pain.
If you want to increase the potential for repetitive motion injury, it’s easy: just get older, smoke, never exercise and eat junk food. All joking aside, you can’t do anything about aging, but regular exercise that includes both muscle strengthening and stretching will keep your muscles strong and improve circulation, both of which decrease your risk of repetitive motion injury. Smoking affects circulation and raises your chances of heart or lung disease. A poor diet means you’re getting less of the vital nutrients that help your body function properly.
Strategies and Solutions
Whether your job involves an office cubicle or running a forklift, you can decrease your chances of a repetitive motion injury with a few changes in your routine. Watch your posture -- don’t slouch, slump or stretch into awkward positions that stress your spine. Get up and move around several times an hour. Keyboard queens, shake out your hands and wrists, rotate your shoulders and perform a few stretches to loosen up. If you usually work standing up, move around periodically and sit down, if possible. Let your boss or human resources department know if the problem continues. Your organization may be able to bring in an ergonomic expert to help you.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.