What are overuse injuries? Why do overuse injuries happen? How do you prevent overuse injuries?

Repetitive stress injuries (otherwise known as repetitive strain, repetitive motion, or repetitive use injuries) are just what they sound like – injuries incurred due to repeated stresses or loads on the body over time. These injuries are quite common in the workplace due to employees performing the same daily tasks or maintaining the same sustained positions for several hours each day. Repetitive stress injury is a broad, umbrella term for a variety of overuse conditions, including, but not limited to, carpal tunnel syndrome, elbow tendonitis, shoulder bursitis and trigger finger. While we may often think of repetitive stress injuries occurring in the upper extremities, they do occur throughout all regions of the body, including the spine and lower extremities. Typical symptoms of repetitive stress injuries may include pain, tingling, weakness and swelling.

In order to prevent the development of a repetitive stress injury, you must first consider your own personal job duties and/or recreational hobbies. For example, do you have an office job that requires you to sit in the same position at a computer, typing most of the day? Or do you have a more physical job that demands frequent and repeated lifting, twisting, drilling, or gripping? How about a favorite hobby such as knitting, or participation in a recreational sport such as tennis? All of these activities can lead to differing repetitive stress conditions. No matter which category you fall into, there are keys to helping keep your body free of injury.

To minimize your chance of developing a repetitive stress injury in the workplace or at home, take frequent breaks and/or change positions often, alternating the way in which you perform repeated tasks. Your workplace may have ergonomic recommendations for you as well. If you do experience pain from an overuse injury, then stop or minimize performance of the aggravating activity. It may also be beneficial to perform gentle stretching to the injured tissues in a comfortable range of motion. Icing the region for 10-20 minutes will also help reduce pain and inflammation. If pain persists, it may be appropriate for you to schedule a physical therapy evaluation to help alleviate your symptoms.

Kristin Collins, PT, DPT, COMT