What is Repetitive Stress Syndrome?

Repetitive stress syndrome is a diagnosis that can describe any number of overuse injuries. When a person repeatedly overexerts a particular muscle or muscle group, he or she can experience chronic aches, tenderness, swelling, and loss of range of motion. The most common sites of repetitive stress injuries include the hand and wrist, elbow, shoulder, lower back, and knee. Most injuries can be treated at home with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Professional medical or surgical care should be considered for problems that persist for several weeks or cause debilitating pain.

People who perform the same type of tasks throughout the day, every day at work are at the highest risk of repetitive stress syndrome. Typing, writing, sewing, and other jobs that require constant finger and wrist movement can result in a very common type of repetitive stress syndrome called carpal tunnel. The muscles in the hands become weakened and painful because the repetitive motions cause inflammation around nerves. When nerves are compressed, it can be difficult or impossible to make controlled movements of the hand.


Elbow and shoulder problems can arise due to hammering nails, swinging a golf club or tennis racket, throwing a baseball, or any other repetitive task that requires a significant amount of force. Inflammation can arise in the joint and nearby tendons, resulting in arm weakness, dull aches, and tenderness. Lower back and knee pain are common among movers and construction workers who are required to frequently lift heavy objects. Poor posture or technique can increase the chance of developing repetitive stress syndrome.

A person who experiences mild repetitive stress syndrome symptoms can usually prevent the condition from getting worse by taking a break from activity. Rest is the most important part of recovery in order to give the affected muscles time to recuperate. Icing and elevating a sore joint and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs can also provide symptom relief. If pain lasts more than a few weeks, it is important to visit a doctor.

A physician can perform a physical evaluation and take imaging scans of the sore body part to determine the severity of a repetitive stress injury. He or she might prescribe a high-strength painkiller or inject a corticosteroid into the inflamed muscle to reduce uncomfortable symptoms. If significant damage has occurred to muscles, joints, or tendons, surgery may be considered.

Many cases of repetitive stress syndrome can be prevented. Ergonomic devices, such as comfortable office chairs, cushioning keyboard pads, and supportive back braces can help take the strain out of repetitive tasks. In addition, a person can take more frequent breaks from activity and improve posture or technique.



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