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Repetitive Motion Injuries At Work: What They Are And How to Avoid Them

By Hayley Payne | Tuesday 16th July 2019

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Repetitive motion injuries at work are very common. They are also known as repetitive strain or overuse injuries, work-related limb disorders, or non-specific limb pain (NHS, 2019). These types of injury can occur in anybody whose work involves repetitive movements.

Sadly, if these injuries aren’t treated, they can become chronic. This can severely affect your ability to do your job. They can also affect your wider life, and can be very painful! In this post, we talk about what repetitive motion injuries at work are, and why they occur. We then go into ways to prevent them from happening. Sometimes, they’re inevitable. So, lastly, we look at ways to treat repetitive motion injuries at work.

What Are Repetitive Motion Injuries?

Repetitive motion injuries at work often happen if your job involves using your hands. Typists will sometimes have them in their wrists and fingers. This can lead to compression in the carpal tunnel. You can then end up with some nerve compression which can be very painful. People in other roles, such as painters and decorators, can often end up with repetitive strain injuries at work, sometimes in their shoulders from lots of overhead work.

Typists often get repetitive motion injuries at work

Repetitive motion injuries at work don’t just happen in the arms and shoulders. Many people who have desk jobs can end up with sore necks from a forward head posture. When people are typing, they tilt their head forward. This then causes the neck flexors to become tight, and the neck extensors weak. As a result, neck and shoulder pain can occur. If it’s left untreated, some people may then develop nerve-related pain in the arm and fingers. This type of injury is often hard to fix if it’s not caught early enough.

Why do Repetitive Motion injuries At Work Occur?

Repetitive motion injuries happen when a movement is carried out over and over again. They can occur in many areas of work. As mentioned above, typing can result in pain in the fingers and wrists, and desk jobs can result in eye strains and neck pain. Manual tasks such as those involving overhead lifting can cause pain in the shoulders, wrists, and elbows.

Repetitive motion injuries at work

Recent research has shown that jobs involving vibrating machinery or cold temperatures can increase the risk of repetitive motion injuries at work. Added work stress can also increase your chances (NHS, 2019). It’s essential that we recognise and treat injuries before they become chronic.

Symptoms of Repetitive Motion Injuries

Symptoms can vary and will usually develop slowly. They will often include:

  1. Cramp
  2. Weakness
  3. Throbbing
  4. Tingling
  5. Numbness
  6. Pain
  7. Aching
  8. Tenderness
  9. Swelling

(BUPA, 2019)

Preventing Repetitive Motion Injuries At Work

In some ways, you can avoid these injuries. For example, if you have a desk job, you can prevent developing a forward head posture by adapting your workstation. Raise your monitor up and have your chair at a reasonable height. Also, add back support. This will help reduce your chances of getting an injury.

Adding back support can help avoid injuries

This being said, some injuries are unavoidable. Examples of this include repetitive strain in the wrists and hands from typing. If typing is one of the key aspects of your job, then it’s likely that you will suffer from some kind of pain around that area. If it becomes chronic, it can then develop. Injuries in the wrists and hands can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, which involves irritation to your nerves. Nerve-related symptoms can be excruciating if they’re not dealt with.

If you think that you are starting to develop repetitive motion injuries at work, it’s worth talking to your employer. This way, you can see if there is anything that can either be adjusted to help. You can also find out whether your work can be modified to help you recover. Your employer has legal duties. They must ensure that repetitive motion injuries at work are minimised. Alongside this, employers must prevent them from worsening if they do occur (NHS, 2019).

How To Treat a Repetitive Motion Injury

There are many ways to treat repetitive motion injuries at work.

  1. Modify: Modifying the task or activity that is causing your symptoms. Sometimes you may have to rest the affected limb completely.
  2. Pain relief: Your GP may recommend taking some short-term pain relief while you are going through the recovery process. Often, doctors will recommend a small course of ibuprofen or paracetamol.
  3. Hot and cold therapy: Using hot and cold therapy may help to reduce some of your symptoms. Ice will reduce swelling, pain and muscle spasms. Heat therapy can increase oxygen uptake and speed up tissue healing.
  4. Physiotherapy: Physiotherapists can advise on posture and how to strengthen specific muscle groups and relax others.
  5. Massage and holistic exercise: Soft tissue massage increases blood flow to the injured area.
  6. Holistic exercise: Activities such as yoga can prevent tightening of muscles.
  7. Steroid injections: In some cases, your GP might offer these. While it may not wholly take your pain away, it can help to control the pain while you have physiotherapy.
  8. Surgery: As a last resort you may need to have surgery. This is suitable when injuries become chronic. Many people have procedures such as carpal tunnel releases. These take the stress of the carpal tunnel and relieves the compression on the median nerve (BUPA, 2019).

Summary

Repetitive motion injuries at work are very common and hard to fix. It’s essential that you look after your body while at work. After all, you may be doing this job for many years which can result in a chronic injury. Chronic injuries are far more challenging to treat, and prevention is better than cure!

Avoid repetitive motion injuries at work

Further Reading

Injuries can often happen in sport and exercise, too! Read about how to prevent injuries during exercise here. Many people get rotator cuff injuries during training. Learn more about the prevention and treatment of rotator cuff injuries here.

Mobility training can help prevent injuries that happen during exercise. Are you incorporating it into your workout regime? Find out more about the benefits of mobility training here. Alongside this, training your core can help – read about why you need a strong core here.

Hayley Payne

Contributor

British Gymnast, Injury Prevention Specialist, BSc (Hons)

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