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Repetitive strain injury: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About repetitive strain injury

Repetitive strain injury is also called ‘repetitive stress injury’ or ‘repetitive motion injury’ or ‘cumulative trauma disorder’. It is a painful condition involving the muscles and bones which gets affected due to repeated forceful movements. Injuries to the upper limb including shoulders and wrists are most commonly seen.

Repetitive strain injury: Incidence, age and sex

Repetitive strain injury is among the most prevalent skeletal condition seen worldwide. About 5% to 7% of the general population is affected, each year. Its incidence is higher in workers performing rigorous physical work and sports individuals especially tennis, cricket or hockey players. There is no affinity to age, race or gender in this condition. It usually affects the knees, the elbows, the shoulders and wrists.

Signs and symptoms of repetitive strain injury: Diagnosis

The primary clinical features of repetitive strain injury include pain and weakness of the limbs. These symptoms arise after repeated and longstanding use of a particular part of the body. The affected individuals may complain of pain, fatigue, weakness, or a sensation of tingling or numbness in the affected limb. Such individuals may not be able to do simple activities such as opening a jar or cutting vegetables. Swelling and redness of the affected limb may also be seen. ‘Tennis elbow’, ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’, ‘tendonitis’, ‘bursitis’, ‘tenosynovitis’ and ‘trigger finger’ are some common types of repetitive strain injuries.

The diagnosis of repetitive strain injury is established by a detailed history and physical examination by an experienced physician. Imaging tests like X-ray, CT or MRI scan of the part affected, may help in confirming the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of repetitive strain injury

The main cause of repetitive strain injury is long-term physical overuse of a particular limb. When the occupation involves hard physical activities like forceful lifting of heavy objects or forceful pushing, then there are increased chances of developing this kind of injury. Sports individuals are more prone to such injuries.

Prevention of repetitive strain injury can be done by regular exercise and maintaining good posture at the workplace. Using ergonomic set up at the work place can reduce the risk to a great extent

Repetitive strain injury: Complications

Repetitive strain injury may have severe complications. The person may not be able to attend to his/her work. Day-to-day routine activities may also get hampered.

Repetitive strain injury: Treatment

Repetitive strain injury is a condition which can become severe, if not taken care. The treatment can be short-term or long-term, depending upon the severity of the injury. If it is due to the awkward positioning, then correction of posture may help in relieving the symptom. If there is pain, inflammation and swelling of the limb, then analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications coupled with adequate rest, may help in improving the condition. Physiotherapy may also be considered, wherein some stretching of the muscles and tendons may help in resolving the symptoms. Surgery may be needed in some conditions like ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’ but is usually the last treatment option.