As an injury, repetitive strains are common among a large majority of professions and athletic fields. For individuals who are employed at a desk job, poor posture, phone use, and excessive typing can contribute to wrist pain and carpal tunnel. Similarly, store clerks, dentists, and musicians all have similar challenges due to work-related strains.
While mild pain is normally best solved with a bit of rest, continued participation in irritating activities can quickly lead to lasting pain and diagnosable pain conditions. While there are various syndromes that are diagnosed by medical professionals, each one falls under the umbrella term of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).
Listed below are some of the most common RSIs individuals suffer from in addition to their symptoms and treatment modalities.
What is a Repetitive Strain Injury
Repetitive strain injuries generally occur in individuals who are required to enact repetitive movements as part of their daily practice. This includes jobs that require repetitive action of both fine motor activities (such as of the wrists, hands, and fingers) and gross motor activities (such as leg and arm movements).
These types of overuse injuries can cause pain and inflammation at the affected joint which ranges from mild to severe. Depending on the extent of the injury, some individuals will get better with rest alone while others will require physical therapy, occupational therapy, medication, and potentially surgery.
Diagnosing a Repetitive Strain Injury
When going to the doctor for pain and suspected RSI, your doctor will place your diagnosis into one of two categories.
- Type 1 RSI
These are the easiest RSIs to spot as doctors will be able to diagnose the syndrome based on visible swelling and inflammation around the affected muscles and tendons.
- Type 2 RSI
Sometimes called non-specific pain syndrome, type 2 RSIs do not exhibit external indicators of inflammation of the tendon or muscle region.
Regardless of what category you fall into, repetitive strain injury symptoms are all similar to one another: pain when using the affected joint, temporarily reduced muscle strength, and potentially pain which radiates or turns into numbness.
Types of Repetitive Strain Injuries
While any joining that is injured through repetitive moments can be considered a “repetitive strain,” there are several common categories of these types of injuries that occur frequently in certain populations. In fact, nearly 50% of all individuals who predominantly work on the computer complain of RSI symptoms with over 600,000 workers needing time off each year to recover from an RSI overall.
With such a large percentage of the population affected, we have broken down repetitive strain injury examples into 4 main categories:
- Repetitive strain injury to the shoulder
This strain tends to affect those which have poor posture which contributes to unnecessary and sustained strain on the shoulder joints. Similarly, repetitive arm motions can also cause strain.
- Repetitive strain injury to the back
Similar to shoulder pain, RSIs involving the back are normally caused by poor posture and support.
- Repetitive strain injury to the elbow
One of the most common RSIs are those which affect the elbow. Known as Lateral Epicondylitis, or simply tennis elbow, this type of RSI causes pain to the exterior of the elbow which can radiate down the arm when left without treatment. Sometimes the elbow pain can be so severe, it necessitates time off work, physical therapy, or even surgery in the most severe cases.
- Repetitive strain injury to the neck
Once more, neck RSIs largely affect the computer-dependent work populations due to the poor posture.
While not always possible, the best solution is to avoid RSIs before they happen. This includes maintaining good posture (sitting and standing) while taking regular breaks from being in the same position for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, the reality for many is that they will suffer an RSI at some point during their working years, especially if they are in a computer-dependent line of work. As such, when prevention is not a possibility, a small arsenal of simple treatments can do wonders for shortening the recovery time.
Repetitive Strain Injury Treatments
Most repetitive strain injuries heal themselves if given rest and time. However, while the body heals, many need some form of pain relief to allow them to return to work normally. How long does an RSI take to heal? Like anything in medicine, it depends on the severity of the condition and whether early treatment was available.
For the immediate source of RSI pain, rest, cold compresses, and anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen are recommended as a first course of action. These measures can be taken in conjunction with at home exercises that seek to stretch out and re-strengthen the affected joints. (More on that, here)
However, for pain that becomes worse over time, is persistent, or begins to result in numbness and immobility, a trip to the specialist is needed. Depending on the severity of the damage, some individuals suffer permanent injury and others still require surgery to try and return to a normal level of functioning.
Seeking Professional Help
While these exercises are effective for many types of pain, there is a certain point where you need to involve professional help. Especially in cases of severe or persistent pain, seeking pain management allows for you to have a wider range of resources available to you including physical therapy, medications, and even alternative treatment suggestions such as acupuncture.
When looking for pain management options, Arizona Pain and Spine prides ourselves in connecting patients with the right care providers to overcome their pain. To start your journey, contact us at (480) 986-7246 for more information and get on the path to discussing your next treatment options.