In the workplace, repetitive trauma can look different to different people, but it always occurs when workers perform the same task over and over again. For you, repetitive strain might be typing on a keyboard, lifting heavy objects, or working on an assembly line.
Any of these repetitive motions can put strain on muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which can lead to repetitive stress injury. Work-related repetitive stress injuries are some of the most common injuries that orthopedic specialists see -- but what is repetitive strain, how do you prevent repetitive strain injuries, and can repetitive motion injuries be treated?
At (BOS), our team sees patients with a wide variety of work-related orthopedic issues, including repetitive strain injuries. We're also proud to have a dedicated to help patients and employers alike navigate the complicated world of workers' compensation benefits and get back to work quickly and safely.
Here are some of the things every worker should know about repetitive strain injuries on the job:
What is a Repetitive Strain Injury?
Repetitive strain injuries, also known as repetitive stress injuries, are a type of musculoskeletal injury that happens when workers perform the same task over and over again.
Repetitive strain injuries can occur in any part of the body, but they are most common in the neck, shoulders, back, and wrists. These injuries usually happen gradually, developing over time as the result of years of performing the same task.
Common Repetitive Motion Disorders
Repetitive strain injuries include a variety of conditions that affect different areas of the body. Some common injuries in this category include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: This condition happens when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the palm of the hand, becomes compressed. Symptoms include numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers.
- Lateral Epicondylitis: Also called 'tennis elbow,' this condition occurs when the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the elbow become irritated. Tennis elbow symptoms include pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow.
- De Quervain's syndrome: This condition involves the tendons in the thumb. It can cause pain and swelling around the base of the thumb, as well as numbness and tingling in the thumb and first two fingers.
- Golfer's elbow: Similar to tennis elbow, golfer's elbow is an irritation of the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the elbow, but it occurs on the inside of the elbow instead of the outside.
- Trigger finger: This condition happens when one of the fingers or thumbs gets stuck in a bent position. It can cause pain and tenderness in the affected finger, as well as swelling.
- Spine disorders: Repetitive strain injuries can also affect the spine, causing conditions like herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, and sciatica.
Symptoms of a Repetitive Motion Injury
The symptoms of repetitive strain injuries will vary depending on the specific condition. In general, however, warning signs can include:
- Pain: This is the most common symptom of a repetitive stress injury. If you feel pain, it might be a dull ache or a sharp, shooting sensation. It might be constant or come and go.
- Tingling: You might feel pins and needles or numbness in the affected area.
- Weakness: Your muscles might feel weak, especially if the injury is in your arm or shoulder.
- Stiffness: The affected area might feel tight and difficult to move.
- Inflammation: You might see swelling in the affected area.
How Do Repetitive Strain Injuries Happen?
In general, repetitive strain injuries happen when workers perform the same repetitive tasks over and over again. Repetitive motions could be typing on a keyboard, lifting boxes on an assembly line, or using power tools. Basically, any job that requires you to perform the same motion every day can lead to a repetitive stress injury.
Proper posture is important for preventing repetitive strain injuries. For office workers who work at a desk, make sure your chair supports your back and that your computer screen is at eye level. For those who do heavy lifting, be sure to use your legs instead of your back to lift objects. And no matter what type of job you have, always be aware of your posture and try to avoid taking awkward positions.
Poor Workplace Ergonomics
Ergonomics is the study of how humans interact with their work environment. Good workplace ergonomics means that your work area is set up in a way that minimizes strain on your body. For example, if you have an office job, your desk and chair should be at the right height so you don't have to hunch over your computer screen. And if you work in a factory, the assembly line should be designed so that workers don't have to reach too far or lift too much weight.
Long Periods of Standing
In certain work environments, such as retail stores or restaurants, stock clerks, servers, and other employees are required to stand in the same position for an extended period of time. This can put strain on the feet, legs, back, and neck. To avoid these problems, take breaks often and try to move around as much as possible. And if possible, wear comfortable shoes with good arch support.
Treat & Prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries
While injuries happen on the job, most overuse injuries are preventable with healthy work habits and cooperation from employers.
Individuals can take action to help prevent work-related repetitive strain injuries. For example:
- Perform stretches and warm-up exercises before starting your shift.
- Use proper posture and body mechanics when performing your job duties.
- Be aware of your surroundings and avoid awkward positions.
- Take regular breaks, especially if you feel pain or discomfort.
- Use ergonomic devices, such as keyboards with wrist rests or anti-fatigue mats.
Employers also have a responsibility to create a safe work environment and help prevent repetitive stress injuries. Some ways employers can do this include:
- Analyzing the work process to identify potential hazards.
- Modifying the workstation to improve ergonomics.
- Providing workers with education and training on how to prevent repetitive strain injuries.
- Implementing an ergonomic workstation design.
If you think you might have a repetitive stress injury, it's important to see a doctor right away. Early diagnosis and medical treatment can help prevent the condition from getting worse. A doctor can also recommend ways to reduce pain and inflammation and speed up the healing process.
Barrington Orthopedic Specialists is committed to helping patients recover from repetitive strain injuries. We offer a variety of treatments, including occupational therapy, physical therapy and . Surgery is usually only recommended if other methods haven't been successful.
When to File a Workers' Compensation Claim
In the state of Illinois, employers are required to provide workers' compensation insurance for their employees. This insurance covers medical expenses and lost wages if an employee is injured on the job.
If you've been injured at work, you should notify your employer as soon as possible and see a doctor immediately. Your employer will then file a claim on your behalf. Once the claim is approved, you'll be able to receive benefits to help cover your medical expenses and lost wages.
Illinois workers' compensation is a no-fault system, which means that you can file a claim regardless of who was at fault for your injury. You can file a claim if you were injured on the job or if your work-related injuries were caused by repetitive stress from your job duties.
Visit the Top Work Injury Specialists Near You
With a healthcare provider committed to using conservative treatment options and advanced technology, you're in good hands at . We have years of experience helping workers recover from injuries and get back to their jobs with confidence.
If you have any questions about workers' compensation or filing a claim, our dedicated team at Barrington Orthopedic Specialists can help. We're here to provide the care and support you need to recover from your injury and get back to work.