What You Can Do to Prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries
How to Prevent Repetitive Strain Injuries
Some types of injuries come on suddenly, taking you by surprise. You might fall and break a bone or cut your finger while preparing dinner.
Other injuries build up over time. Called repetitive strain, or repetitive stress injuries, they develop as a result of repeated movements that damage the joints, nerves, muscles, or tendons.
At first, you might shrug off a repetitive stress injury, thinking it's not a big deal or that it will resolve on its own. But, without treatment, the discomfort and damage can worsen.
Fortunately, you can take certain actions to protect yourself and minimize the risk of developing a repetitive stress injury.
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What Types of Movements Cause Repetitive Strain Injuries?
A wide range of movements can lead to repetitive strain injuries. Some areas of the body that are more commonly affected by repetitive movements include the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. A few examples of the movements that can lead to injury include:1
● Dicing or chopping vegetables
● Typing on a keyboard
● Using a computer mouse
● Using tools such as a hammer or saw
● Using power tools
● Swinging a tennis racket
● Throwing a baseball
● Scanning items at a checkout line
● Working on an assembly line
● Playing certain musical instruments
Knowing what types of motions could contribute to an injury can help you take steps to protect yourself.
Protect Yourself at Work
Protecting yourself from repetitive stress injuries while you're on the job will usually require a team effort. Your employer has some responsibility for providing an ergonomic workplace, which reduces the risk of injury.2
If you work in an office or sit at a desk while working from home, it's important that your office furniture fit you. Ideally, you'll be able to adjust the height of your chair so that your feet can rest flat on the ground. The desk shouldn't be so short that you're hunched over it or so tall that you strain to reach.
Your chair should have adequate back support, too.
If you use a computer, you should be able to adjust the screen height so it's eye level. You should also have support for your wrists as you type so that they aren't over-extended. If you need to make a lot of calls, use a headset so that you don't have to hold the phone up to your ear.
For jobs that don't require sitting at a desk or using a computer, good posture is still important. If you work on an assembly line, use power or manual tools, or siet and sew, pay attention to your posture. Keep your feet flat on the ground and your thighs parallel with the floor. If you're standing, avoid hunching over.
Taking little breaks throughout the day will also reduce the risk of developing a repetitive stress injury. The vibrations from power tools or the movements needed to make stitches, repeatedly grab objects, or type cause wear and tear over time. Taking a several-minute break every 30 minutes to one hour reduces the strain on your muscles and tendons, ideally reducing the risk of injury.
Protect Yourself at Home
Certain activities at home, such as preparing meals, can also lead to injury over time. The same general tips that will protect you at work will protect you at home. Take breaks from chopping or dicing food or cleaning. Make sure your posture is straight.
You might also want to invest in anti-fatigue mats to put on the floor in front of your kitchen counters. The mats contain a gel that creates a cushioned surface to stand on, easing the strain on your muscles and joints.
Protect Yourself During Sports and Exercise
If you're an athlete or work out regularly, one of the best ways to reduce the risk of developing a repetitive motion or stress injury is to avoid overworking certain muscles or tendons.
That means learning to listen to your body and ignoring the voice inside that tells you to keep going even when you're sore and tired.
Warming up before a training session, workout, or game gives your body a chance to acclimate to movement and can also help reduce the risk of injury. The same is true of stretching and cooling down when you're finished.
If you notice any early warning signs of an injury, such as numbness, tingling, or increased weakness in a joint or muscle, talk to your family physician. They can give you tips to help you avoid making the injury worse and can help you treat the discomfort.
1. Repetitive Motion Disorders, National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke, https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/repetitive-motion-disorders
2. Ergonomics, OSHA, https://www.osha.gov/ergonomics/faqs