Definition

What are repetitive motion injuries?

Repetitive motion injuries, also called repetitive stress injuries, are temporary or permanent injuries to muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons caused by doing the same motion over and over again.

The most common types of repetitive motion injuries are tendinitis and bursitis. These two disorders are difficult to differentiate and many times may coexist.

How common is repetitive motion injuries?

Repetitive motion injuries are common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of repetitive motion injuries?

Tendinitis: The most common symptom associated with tendinitis is pain over the site involved. Tendinitis is made worse by active motion of the inflamed tendon. The skin overlying the inflamed tendon may be red and warm to the touch.

Biceps: The painful spot is usually in the groove where the arm meets the shoulder. You can reproduce the pain by flexing your elbow at 90 and trying to turn your hand palm up (called supination) against resistance.

Tennis elbow: This pain is in the elbow and is reproduced by cocking your wrist back (extending the wrist) as if you are bringing a tennis racket back to hit the ball.

Golfer’s elbow: This pain also occurs in the elbow but is made worse by flexing the wrist forward as if you are hitting a golf ball.

Rotator cuff: Raising your arm out to the side reproduces this pain. The painful area is usually over the affected shoulder.

Bursitis: Common symptoms include pain, tenderness, and decreased range of motion over affected area. Redness, swelling, and a crunchy feeling when the joint is moved (crepitus) may also occur.

Knee: This condition involves swelling over the bottom part of the kneecap that is red and warm to the touch. Usually, the range of motion of the knee will be less because of the pain that bending and straightening the knee causes.

Elbow: Pain, swelling, and redness are found over the elbow. The pain gets worse when you flex and extend your arm at the elbow.

Hip: Your pain is increased by walking or by lying on the affected side. Bringing your leg away from and toward the midline of the body can also reproduce the pain.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Pain with movement of arms and legs
  • Tenderness over a joint or where a tendon connects
  • Redness and increased warmth over a joint
  • Pain that wakes you from sleep
  • Inability to sleep on affected side
  • Inability to carry on normal activities of daily living (such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower)

Causes

What causes repetitive motion injuries?

Repetitive motion disorders develop because of microscopic tears in the tissue. When the body is unable to repair the tears in the tissue as fast as they are being made, inflammation occurs, leading to the sensation of pain.

Causes of repetitive motion injuries include:

  • Repetitive activity
  • Trauma
  • Crystal deposits (such as in gout)
  • Friction
  • Systemic disease (rheumatoid arthritis, gout)

Risk factors

What increases my risk for repetitive motion injuries?

Please consult your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How are repetitive motion injuries diagnosed?

Tendinitis

The diagnosis of tendinitis is most often made based on history and a physical examination.

Imaging studies may help confirm the diagnosis. The imaging study of choice is the MRI. An MRI gives a very detailed picture and can identify a tear, rupture, inflammation, or other disease processes. An MRI is not useful in visualizing inflammation of the tendon sheath, tenosynovitis, unless fluid is present within the sheath itself.

Bursitis

Your doctor will check if your bursitis has an inflammatory or an infectious cause. The elbow and knee have a higher risk of having an infectious cause, so fluid will probably be drained from your joint to be checked for bacterial infection.

Conditions that place you at a higher risk for infectious bursitis include:

  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Diabetes
  • Uremia
  • Gout
  • Manual labor
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

How are repetitive motion injuries treated?

Based on your condition, your doctor recommends the suitable treatment.

Tendinitis is best treated with immobilization and ice during the early phase and moist heat during the long-term phase.

  • Bands placed around the elbow may be used for tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen) may be prescribed to reduce the inflammation. All NSAIDs should be taken with food or milk to avoid stomach upset.
  • If your tendinitis or bursitis is not helped by NSAIDs, the doctor may choose to inject steroids into the surrounding area of inflammation. As a rule, you should not have more than 3 injections into the same area within a 12-month period.
  • You should begin graduated range-of-motion exercise once your symptoms begin to improve.
  • An exception to this type of treatment is shoulder involvement.
  • The shoulder should not be immobilized for more than 24-48 hours in order to minimize frozen shoulder, called adhesive capsulitis.
  • You should have physical therapy in addition to ultrasound and warm water baths.
  • The goal in treatment of shoulder tendinitis is first and foremost to maintain full range of motion of the shoulder joint. Relieving the symptoms is secondary.

The treatment of inflammatory bursitis is similar to that of tendinitis.

  • Use rest and ice, and elevate your arm or leg.
  • Alternative treatments include pain-killing creams, capsaicin cream (an over-the-counter pain relief cream made from an ingredient of cayenne pepper), and steroid medications if you are able to take them.
  • If your bursitis is caused by an infection, treatment will include the appropriate antibiotics.
  • Steroid injection may be used but only for inflammatory bursitis. Steroid injections should be avoided in infectious bursitis because they may increase the body’s susceptibility to infection.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage repetitive motion injuries?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with repetitive motion injuries:

  • Do adequate warm-up and cool-down maneuvers (crucial to proper tendon and bursae health).
  • Avoid activity that makes your injury flare up. This will speed healing of both tendinitis and bursitis.
  • If using a hedge clipper caused you pain, avoid this activity and others like it.
  • If reaching overhead in your work has caused a repetitive motion injury, your occupational health manager may be able to redesign your job so you won’t have to reach overhead.
  • Practice range-of-motion exercises, especially with tendinitis. These are important to ensure minimal decrease in function.
  • Use splints or bands to decrease the strain on a tendon that occurs with sporting activities, such as tennis and golf. These devices may be bought over-the-counter or obtained from your doctor.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

 

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: November 3, 2017 | Last Modified: November 3, 2017

Want to live your best life?
Get the Hello Doktor Daily newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.