As some of the most common injuries in the United States every year, repetitive motion injuries are of concern to athletes and many other individuals. These injuries, caused by performing the same movements over and over, account for over half of all athlete-related injuries that are seen by a doctor. Fortunately, a basic understanding of how these injuries develop and the steps to take to prevent them can help you avoid a repetitive motion injury.
Common Repetitive Injuries and Symptoms
There are two extremely common repetitive motion injuries: tendinitis and bursitis.
Tendinitis refers to the inflammation of a tendon, which is a tissue that connects muscle to bone in many areas of the body and allows for movement. Tendons are strong enough to support the weight of the muscle they’re attached to.
Tendinitis is slightly more common in males and generally occurs in locations where the tendon inserts into the bone—like the shoulder, biceps and elbow. Symptoms and of tendinitis include pain made worse by active motion of the affected tendon and redness or warmth in the skin above the affected tendon. Common types of tendinitis include:
- • Tennis elbow: Pain in the elbow, exacerbated by extending the wrist, such as the motion used to hit a tennis ball
- • Rotator cuff: Pain caused by raising the arm out to the side, usually over the shoulder
- • Golfer’s elbow: Pain in the elbow caused by flexing the wrist forward, similar to how one would move when hitting a golf ball
Bursitis is another form of inflammation on a bursa, or sac, that’s meant to cushion the space between tendons and bones. There are over 150 bursae in the body, most of which are already grown at birth. There are a few different types of bursitis—traumatic bursitis, which is mostly seen in people under 35 years old, is the type most commonly seen in repetitive motion injuries.
Bursitis frequently develops in the elbow, knee and hip, with symptoms including pain, range of motion issues, tenderness, redness, swelling and a sensation called crepitus (a “crunchy” feeling when the joint is being moved).
How Repetitive Injuries Develop
These kinds of repetitive injuries are due to small tears found in the affected tissues. Usually, the body repairs these tears while the tendons rest. But in some cases, the body isn’t given the time to properly repair. There are a few possible reasons for this:
- • Repeated activity without proper rest time afforded to strained tendons
- • Friction within tendons or bursae
- • Trauma
- • Crystal deposits, like those found in gout
- • Systemic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, gout and others
Preventing Repetitive Injuries
Preventing both tendinitis and bursitis is about allowing the body proper healing time and taking the preventive steps to assist it in this regard. A few areas to consider include:
- • Warm-up and cool-down: To prepare tendons and bursae for activity, and to help them recover after activity, practice stretching and other warm-up and cool-down exercises.
- • Practice range-of-motion exercises: Particularly in cases of tendinitis, range-of-motion exercises can help limit the losses in function you see from these injuries.
- • Rest: If you’ve identified particular sports or activities that flare up your repetitive injury, stay away from these activities. This will help increase healing speed.
- • Use proper equipment: Splints, bands and other equipment can help lessen the strain placed on a tendon. Many of these items can be purchased at the store, and others can be recommended by your doctor.
Your doctor can offer further advice and pre-participation exams to help you avoid common repetitive stress injuries.
I treat people of all ages in my practice—kids, athletes, adults and retirees––and enjoy being able to understand people’s unique situations in order to help them recover.
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