What is a Repetitive Stress Injury?

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  • Written By: J.Gunsch
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 21 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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Repetitive stress injury refers to a musculoskeletal condition in which repeated stress or strain on a joint causes injury to the tendons, muscles, or bursa, a sac of fluid that reduces friction between the tendons and bones. Literally, it is the wear and tear of these tissues as they work to move the joint. The term is used generally to refer to many specific injuries or conditions that result from a person's occupation, hobbies, or sports activities.

Some of the specific conditions that are considered repetitive stress injury are carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, tendinitis, tennis elbow, and trigger finger. These are only a fraction of the hundreds of known conditions that can be caused by repetitive stress. All of them have basically the same impact on the body, only in different areas.

Regardless of which body part is affected, this type of injury occurs when a particular joint is used constantly to perform the same task. For example, tennis elbow commonly occurs in tennis players because they strain their elbow over and over in swinging the racket. Despite the name, tennis elbow can affect people who don't play tennis, such as carpenters who repetitively uses the same joint when wielding a hammer.


Repetitive stress injury is characterized by an extremely painful inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and/or bursa around the joint. It is also common for nerves to be pinched due to swelling, causing pain in areas of the body that are not actually injured. For example, a problem in the shoulder area may cause pain in the hand. A person suffering from this type of injury may have difficulty performing simple tasks, like holding a cup of coffee or brushing her hair. Symptoms tend to subside if the affected area is given time to heal.

To relieve pain and soreness, it is usually effective to alternate applying hot and cold packs to the area in 20-minute intervals. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are also helpful. Maintaining good posture, relaxation techniques, and stretching can significantly reduce the likelihood of injuring part of the body due to repetitive use.



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