Just like some days wear you out, some activities — especially those that happen over and over again — can wear your body parts out. Those tired thumbs and creaky knees can be more than pesky; they may signal a bigger problem: repetitive strain injury (RSI).
What is RSI and why does it happen?
Overuse injuries often occur when a person performs the same movements day after day, without a break. The injury may begin as shoulder, neck or hand discomfort and, left unaddressed, can progress to more intense pain, tingling or numbness.
Repetitive tool use is one situation that can exacerbate RSI. Working on a kitchen assembly line, laying tile, hammering on a construction site, and even the persistent use of digital handheld devices can lead to pain and stiffness.
How do I avoid RSI?
Taking breaks — even just 10 to 20 seconds — allows normal blood circulation to return the affected area. Laptop users should work on computers placed on a desk or a table and equip workstations with an external monitor and keyboard for even greater comfort. Be sure to adjust your monitor height so your head is up and your eyes can see the top of the monitor. Position an external keyboard so that your elbows and wrists rest in a relaxed neutral position.
When should I consult my doctor?
If you can’t complete activities without pain, it’s time for a conversation with your doctor. When it comes to pain, earlier is better. The longer you wait to address a problem, the more likely other solutions, such as surgery or pain medications, might be required.
Steve Giammona, a physical therapist with Beaufort Memorial Outpatient Rehabilitation Services, says the twinges and aches that come after working in the garden or playing the back nine should generally clear up within 24 to 48 hours or with application of ice to the affected area. “If the pain doesn’t go away, that’s when we may start to see things like tendinitis develop,” he says. “That can require intervention from a physical therapist or an orthopedic surgeon.”
Your doctor may first recommend that you meet with a physical therapist, a certified movement and function specialist. A therapist can help rehabilitate your injury or evaluate a work environment to suggest changes that can help while you’re on the job. Treatment of more serious or long-standing injuries can require an orthopaedic specialist.