What is the truth about repetitive stress injuries?

Monday, December 17, 2012

What's the truth about repetitive stress injuries?

Repetitive stress injury (RSI) is known by several names - among them, cumulative trauma disorder, overuse syndrome and regional musculoskeletal disorder - but for those affected by the condition, the symptoms are all the same.

From muscle and joint tenderness, to swelling, to throbbing pain in the affected area, RSI can result in persistent discomfort and diminish quality of life. However, by knowing the truth on fitness - including the cause and long-term impact of RSI - individuals can come to better understand the condition, which is the key to prevention.

Myth: RSI isn't a real health concern
Aches and pains are expected after a tough workout, but for those impacted by RSI, the tingling sensations and nagging discomfort that characterize the condition are a persistent reality.

According to Medical News Today, the hands, neck, wrists and elbows are where the signs of RSI usually emerge. However, for many athletes - particularly runners and cyclists - shin splints and knee pain are also all-too common forms of RSI, both of which may start out relatively minor but result in a fracture or disability if ignored.

Two types of RSI exist - type one relates to repetitive motion and includes conditions like carpal tunnel, which can be painful. Those who experience the second type may not experience pain, but have visible swelling or inflammation at the site. RSI can lead to arthritis and other chronic, long-term problems.

Myth: The pain will go away on its own
One of the easiest ways to begin treatment of RSI is to pinpoint what movements are triggering symptoms. It's important to note that even exercise that isn't immediately taxing on the body may lead to an overuse injury when performed over long periods of time. By putting a stop to actions that nag after a while, it's possible to gain temporary relief from RSI-related pains. But this doesn't mean having to skip the gym. Instead, runners may want to take a day off from sprinting to workout on a cross trainer or with some free weights.

For more immediate relief, aspirin and other pain medications are typically recommended to alleviate inflammation. In addition, using ice packs, firm splints and elastic supports can be beneficial. Other treatment options include steroid injections, physical therapy and a restful night's sleep.

Myth: There's no way to prevent RSI
Even by understanding what the condition is and how it develops, the high frequency of certain movements throughout a workout can make it seem like there's no way to prevent RSI. However, there are measures that may reduce the risk of developing the condition.

Those who engage in contact sports or other forms of intense, endurance activity should stretch before every workout. By ensuring the limbs are warmed up before a run or similar exercise, it's possible to significantly prevent RSI from developing. Taking breaks, exploring strength-training routines and using proper posture can also be essential in building resistance to the condition.

Myth: Only office workers get RSI of the wrists
Carpal tunnel syndrome is one of the most common types of RSI-based health problems, and is often attributed to office work. However, athletes are highly susceptible to the condition as well.

A recent study in the Journal of Athletic Training, the official publication of the National Athletic Trainers' Association, found that nearly 30 percent of all collegiate sports injuries occur as a result of overuse, or making the same movement repeatedly.

"Understanding the frequency, rate and severity of overuse injuries is an important first step for designing effective injury-prevention programs, intervention strategies and treatment protocols to prevent and rehabilitate athletes with these types of injuries," said study co-author Tracey Covassin, a certified athletic trainer at Michigan State University and a member of the Department of Kinesiology.