Your hands ache, your thumb screams when you move it, your forearms feel stiff, or there’s that spot on your back that doesn’t ever seem to loosen up. You may be suffering from a repetitive motion injury.
Also known as tendonitis, repetitive motion injuries (RMI) are temporary or permanent injuries caused by making the same motions over and over again. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a well-publicized example, but an injury to muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons can occur nearly anywhere in the body.
RMIs can be excruciatingly painful and debilitating. If your doctor has diagnosed an RMI, it’s essential to create a game plan to deal with it as soon as possible. While it can be a chronic condition, many RMIs can be alleviated with patience, proper care, and a change in your habits.
RMIs are very common in the smaller ligaments and tendons because they can’t sustain the abuse that some larger muscle groups can. We know that we should lift with the legs to protect the back, and understand that curling heavy weights could damage the bicep, but we often don’t think about the little guys that offer support to our skeletal system throughout our everyday activities. Therefore, we often don’t take preventative measures to protect them.
Identify the Issue
To help prevent injury you must first identify repetitive motions. If you golf, think about your hand grip. For tennis players, well, they call it tennis elbow for a reason. And of course, for those of you saddled up to a computer keyboard, think about how your hands, wrists, and forearms feel after a day on the job.
Whatever your repetitive motion is, create an alternative. For example, vary your keyboard usage, employing a wrist rest and then taking it away for short periods; allowing different muscles to carry the load. Alternately, consider a talk-to-type program and avoid typing altogether. A visit with an occupational therapist can help you find out about ergonomic solutions that might be available to you on the job or during recreational activities.
Most doctors will recommend a brace for the afflicted area, which helps to immobilize it so that it can heal. Inflammation in the area will remain and worsen with continued use, so it is essential to act quickly for the best chance of recovery. While there are generic splints available at medical supply stores for nearly every part of the body, the most effective braces are made by specialists who create a custom design specifically for you.
R & R
As much as you might hate it, rest and relaxation is required to allow your body to heal. Continuing to push past the pain, ignore the issue, or only half-heartedly adhering to a treatment regimen could result in permanent damage. This likely means stepping away from some of your favorite activities to focus on your recovery.
In addition to resting the afflicted area, the first line of defense typically includes heat and cold treatments, alternating as prescribed. In addition, you will probably be asked to take regular doses of ibuprofen, Naproxen, or other anti-inflammatories.
One of the most important things you can do preventatively or as a treatment for an RMI is to stretch. Target stretches specific to your condition and perform them frequently; it helps your muscles from tightening up. If you don’t know which stretches could help, look to your physical therapist for a plan. Along with stretching, conditioning exercises can help improve the situation and prevent further injury.
There are more than three million cases of RMI diagnosed each year, with many more likely undiagnosed cases as well. RMI as a chronic condition can cause depression, anxiety, and perhaps even force a change of job or lifestyle so it is essential to reach out for any professional help you might need to treat the condition. The good news is that with a proper diagnosis and combination of treatments, improvement is highly likely.