When the same tissues are repeatedly strained for a prolonged period of time, repetitive stress injury can develop. Repetitive stress injury refers to a group of conditions associated with stresses continuously being placed on soft tissues, like tendon, muscle or joint tissues. The area being stressed doesn’t have time to recover and it becomes irritated, painful and swollen.
It is not always clear the specific tissue that is affected in repetitive stress injury. It could be an inflammation of the tendon (the strong flexible band of tissues that attaches muscle to bone), inflammation of the bursae (the small fluid filled sacs that act as cushions between tendons and bones), or a number of other possibilities. The important thing is to take action to reduce the inflammation.
If you have repetitive stress injury, the affected area will most likely be tender, swollen, red and warm/hot. It may be painful to move and the pain will usually be localized to the affected area.
Repetitive stress injury is caused when the same action is performed over and over. Specific kinds of repetitive stress injury are caused by certain actions:
- Shoulder tendinitis – often caused by using the arm to make repeated overhead motions above shoulder height
- Tennis elbow – caused by repeatedly bending the wrist backwards with force, such as when playing tennis or painting with a brush
- Golfer’s elbow – caused by repeatedly bending the wrist forward with force, such as when pulling ropes or golfing
- Dequervain’s tendosynovitis – caused by repeated use of the wrist/thumb on the thumb side of the hand, such as when carrying a newborn or using a new keyboard
- Housemaid’s knee – caused by kneeling or leaning forward for a long period of time, such as when scrubbing the floor
Some forms of tendinitis and bursitis may be caused by diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, Reiter’s syndrome, thyroid disease and diabetes.
The goal of treating repetitive stress injury is to relieve pain and swelling and to prevent the problem from becoming worse. You are a vital part of the treatment plan. Here are some things you can do to help bring relief to your painful tissues.
Ice will reduce inflammation by constricting blood vessels. It will provide temporary pain relief by numbing the area and blocking nerve impulses in the joint. Use the 10/10/10 protocol – ice 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, 10 minutes on.
The majority of irritated tissues will settle down when given the chance to rest and heal. If the area affected is your wrist or thumb, a splint may be required. Other joints may be treated in a similar fashion. You should consult your healthcare professional for the best solution for your situation.
After the swelling in the joint has gone down, it is important to begin exercising the muscles slowly so they don’t become irritated again as well as to prevent any loss of movement. Your doctor may recommend you to a therapist who can show you the proper exercises to do.
Protect your joints
Use your joints in ways that avoid excess stress. Techniques to protect your joints include:
- Alternating heavy or repeated tasks with easier tasks or breaks
- Use larger, stronger joints to carry loads – ex. Use a shoulder bag instead of a hand-held one
- Avoid carrying loads in the same position for a long time
- Use the correct tools and equipment to keep you from assuming awkward positions
- Use helpful devices, such as canes, luggage carts, grocery carts and reaching aids to make your daily tasks easier