Chronic pain and injury to the musculoskeletal and nervous system is often caused by a number of motions or habits that become repetitive in everyday life. Such factors as regularly performing repetitive tasks or motions, exposing the body to vibrations or certain forms of compression, maintaining poor posture, or regularly over-exerting oneself, infrequent breaks from a task, can all lead to what are known as repetitive injuries.
Many of these injuries such as tendinopathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, de quervain syndrome, tennis elbow (lateral epicondylosis), trigger finger (stenosing tenosynovitis) and golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylosis) commonly occur, and can take a greater toll on the body over time compared to a sudden injury. Due to this fact prevention and treatment of repetitive injuries is just as important to a person’s health as would be rehabilitation after a sudden injury.
The increase in occurrences of repetitive injuries in recent years can mainly be attributed to the amount of time people spend in front of computers performing repetitive motions in a stationary position. While this is a main cause of the more recent developments of repetitive injuries, there are a number of other causes that result in similar symptoms such as:
- Muscle/joint pain
- Tingling sensations
- Constant, dull aches
Many people choose to ignore these symptoms when they first begin to occur, as they initially improve with a small amount of rest. After a while however, as the body is continually exposed to these repetitive tasks and strains, these symptoms can become more severe and long-lasting. At this point, damage to muscles, joints and even the nervous system can also become permanent.
The sooner an injury is treated, the better the outcome and results in less of an impact on a person’s overall health and ability to move freely. The first step to healing a repetitive injury is to properly identify the cause of the problem, and what areas of the body are being negatively affected. Since there are a number of different types of repetitive injuries, there are an equally large amount of methods of identifying these injuries throughout the body. There are three main types of objective clinical tests that can be performed by a physiotherapist to determine extent of the repetitive injury and structures involved. These tests are known as Diagnostic tests and Effort-Based tests. Diagnostic tests include impingement tests for rotator cuff, finkelstein’s test for dequervain’s tenosynovitis, tinel’s for nerve irritations. Effort-based tests challenge the contractile properties of a muscle-tendon structure. In addition to these, Nerve Conduction Velocity Tests can test for proper condition of a nerve. There are several imaging methods that can also identify a repetitive injury caused by nerve compression such as an MRI test or an X-ray.
Once an injury is properly identified, it can be treated, as well as prevented from becoming worse. In some cases, specific exercises can reduce the risk of developing serious injuries or further aggravating an existing ailment. Changes to a person’s posture can also go a long way towards reducing chronic pain and injury. Physiotherapists can recommend both the exercises and improvements to posture that can help treat a repetitive injury. In addition to these treatments, physiotherapists can use a combination of specific manual therapy techniques and modalities such as a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) procedure, which uses a mild electrical current to block pain signals sent to the injured area of the body.