Repetitive stress injury (RSI) is caused by repeated or excessive movement of the shoulders and arms.
Symptoms of repetitive stress injury may occur anywhere in the shoulders or arms. At first, they usually occur only during the repetitive movement. These first symptoms may include tired muscles, aches, and pain. Later, if repetitive movement continues, the symptoms worsen and may include: muscle aches muscle fatigue, during activity and at resttingling sensation in the affected areapain radiating up the armdifficulty sleepingnumbness in the affected area, especially the fingersdisability because of chronic pain or weakness frustration and depression due to pain
Causes of repetitive stress injury include: repetitive and excessive use of the muscles of the upper limbs. This includes activities such as typing, sewing, heavy lifting, playing tennis, sawing wood, and using a cash registerpoor posture when carrying out these activitiespoorly designed work conditions and work stationspregnancy
If RSI is not successfully treated, nerve and tissue damage may cause a decrease in feeling and range of motion. The individual may experience chronic pain or soreness in the affected area. Disability or loss of employment may also occur.
Specific RSI conditions include: carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes pain and other symptoms in the hand and wristtendonitis, which is an inflammation of the tendons in any part of the bodybursitis, which is an inflammation of the sac that cushions a jointganglions, which are cysts that may occur on a tendon
Avoiding overexertion of the arms and shoulders can prevent many cases of RSI. Warming up and stretching the muscles before activity, and using proper body mechanics during the activity, may also reduce the risk of injury.
Ergonomics is the practice and study of arranging work equipment to allow for more comfort and less strain on the body. There are many ergonomic products, such as wrist pads, height adjusters on keyboard holders, and wrist support braces. These products are intended to decrease the stress on muscles, tendons, tissues, and nerves of the arms.
Taking regular breaks during repetitive activities, and doing strengthening exercises may help. Learning proper methods of sitting, positioning the feet, lifting, and bending may also decrease the risk of RSI. Many causes cannot be prevented.
The diagnosis of repetitive stress injury begins with a complete medical history and physical examination. The healthcare professional may order tests, such as: x-rays and other imaging scans, such as an MRI a nerve conduction velocity test (NCV) to check for nerve damageblood tests, including a complete blood count (CBC), to rule out infectiona biopsy of any fluid or growths to rule out infection, tumor, or cancer
Minor pain or injury may require RICE therapy: rest or reduced activityice or cold packs applied to the affected areacompression of the area, such as with ace bandages or wrist splintselevation
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (i.e., Naprosyn, Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan), may be used to reduce inflammation and discomfort. In some cases, a corticosteroid may be injected into the affected area.
Physical therapy or strength training exercises may help increase the strength of the tendons and muscles. Ultrasound may be used to warm the muscles and improve blood flow. If conservative treatment is not successful, surgery may be necessary.
NSAIDs can cause stomach upset and allergic reactions. Surgery can be complicated by bleeding, infection, or reactions to anesthesia.
In mild cases of repetitive stress injury, no further treatment is needed for minor pain and inflammation. For more serious disease or injury, treatment may continue. Physical therapy and daily strengthening exercises may be recommended.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.
Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 1998, Fauci et al.
Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness, and Surgery, Griffith, 2000
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