I have recently experienced repetitive motion pain in my neck and shoulder from my positioning at my computer as well as in my hand from sewing projects where I have been using scissors to cut through thick layers of fabric. Whether you play tennis, work on an assembly line, or spend long hours on a computer, repetitive motion pain is resolvable if you know the right tips to manage it, and even preventable if you are aware of the repetitive activity and take the right precautions.
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is the general term for pain in muscles, nerves and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse. RSI is also referred to as repetitive motion disorder or RMD. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and stroke, “Repetitive motion disorders (RMDs) are a family of muscular conditions that result from repeated motions performed in the course of normal work or daily activities. RMDs may include carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, tendonitis, epicondylitis, ganglion cyst, tenosynovitis, and trigger finger.”[i] Trigger finger and tennis elbow are actually forms of tendonitis. The key triggers (sorry for the pun) for developing repetitive strain injuries are:
- Too many uninterrupted repetitions of an activity or motion
- Unnatural or awkward motions such as twisting the arm or wrist
- Incorrect posture
- Muscle fatigue.
The most commonly areas where RMDs occur include the hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. However, other areas where RMDs occur are the neck, back, hips, knees, feet, legs, and ankles. A key sign for a repetitive strain injury is that the symptoms eventually resolve when the activity is stopped. However, it can take 6 months or more to heal from these injuries.
Symptoms of a RMD may include one or more of the following:
- Visible swelling
- Redness of the affected area
- Loss of flexibility
- Loss of strength.
- Inability to perform easy tasks
Why is it important to address RMDs? Long-term RMDs can result in temporary or even permanent soft tissue damage to muscle, nerve, tendons, or ligaments. By being aware that you are using a repetitive motion, you can also take precautions to take breaks, stretch, or change the way you do the activity. Symptoms of swollen or inflamed tissue may indicate an underlying medical condition such as bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff syndrome, tendonitis, Dupuytren’s contracture, Raynaud’s phenomenon, thoracic outlet syndrome, etc.
Here are some natural therapy tips for repetitive motion pain:
- Rest-The number one tip here is rest, or a break in repetitive motion activity that is causing pain in a specific area.
- Cold/Heat Therapy-Putting ice on the area can be helpful when you experience initial inflammation or pain. Heat can also help to resolve pain. Avoid excessive hot or cold to the area.
- Support-Support devices or splints can help alleviate the pain and swelling to an affected joint.
- Topical Natural Pain Therapies-Arnica cream, essential oils such as lavender, birch oil, Peppermint oil, Eucalyptus oil, etc.
- Natural Anti-inflammatory Supplements-Curcumin, ginger, CBD oil.
- Positioning/Posture Correction– Change the activity or way in which you perform the activity-Examples would be using a non-dominant hand, doing the activity in a different position, stretching the joint, ligaments, or muscles where you experience pain. Learn techniques to promote good posture.
- Taking breaks from activity-alternate the activity with other tasks.
- Stretching-Getting up from too much sitting at a computer and stretching every hour is important. Overall, stretching at least daily, especially after awakening can help avoid stiffness associated with repetitive strain.
- Exercise-A variety of activities is key. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong are all great activities to intermix with other types of exercise that you enjoy.
- Physical Therapy/Physiotherapy/Occupational Therapy– Therapists can recommend specific strengthening exercises to help the area impacted by the repetitive motion.
- Acupressure/Acupuncture-Acupuncture is extremely effective for treating repetitive stress injuries and may eliminate the need for surgery or the use of anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids. Acupressure to specific points may help relieve pain associated with specific areas of the body.
- Chiropractic Care-Manipulation of the area by a chiropractor can help relieve associated pain and swelling through adjustments and realignment.
- Ergonomic Assessment-If you are experiencing pain due to a repetitive work activity, you may want to have an ergonomic assessment of your work area to see if you have the right tools and settings for your desk, chair, computer, and other work accessories.
- Overall diet and lifestyle-Assuring a healthy diet and lifestyle along with adequate rest and stress management can help your body be more resilient to healing from injury.
Once you develop an RSI, hopefully, you’ll be paying more attention, like I am to avoid another one. It takes much more energy to recover from one, than to avoid developing one. So, pay attention to any repetitive activities that you engage in and take measures above to prevent them or address them as naturally as possible to avoid the negative side effects of over-the-counter medications. The most important point here is to find whatever the root cause of the RSI is and to change the behavior of the activity. Fortunately, I achieved my goal to avoid corticosteroid injections and over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications through obtaining relief with heat therapy, acupuncture, essential oils, CBD oil, physical therapy, and chiropractic techniques. Oh…, and the most important strategy is continuing to address how I go about my computer work and sewing ergonomically, including breaks, appropriate stretching, and exercise.