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Work Smart: Recognize and Avoid Repetitive Use Syndrome

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August 9, 2007

Chicago -

Five Tips to Help Prevent Pain and Injury

Those workday aches in your bones, joints and muscles and stiffness after hours spent in front of the computer could spell out the signs of repetitive use syndrome.  Injuries caused by this syndrome occur when too much stress is placed on a joint as a result of performing the same action over and over causing affected areas can become tender, swollen, red and hot. While not life threatening, repetitive use injuries can potentially cause crippling disability and pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis are common injuries that may arise on the job.

Charles Carroll, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, offers the following tips to help avoid repetitive use injuries at work:

Evaluate Workstation Set-Up  
Create a work environment that helps avoid over-straining muscles. Focus on good posture, no slumping or resting your head on your hand, while sitting at your desk. When possible, choose ergonomic office furniture and tools that encourage support and comfort for your muscles and joints.

Vary Activities 
Vary work tasks as much as possible throughout the day. If your job involves lifting, alternate heavy tasks with easier ones to reduce the stress on joints and give muscles a break. If you spend your time at the computer, intersperse repetitive typing with other activities to give joints in the wrists a break.

Take Regular Breaks 
Take regular breaks away from your desk as often as possible to counter the effects of a fixed sitting position. Short breaks, which can include looking away from the computer and moving shoulders, arms and fingers, should be taken after every 10 minutes or so. Longer breaks of at least a few minutes should be taken every 1/2 hour or so.

After pain or swelling has been reduced, stretching and strengthening exercises can sometimes help reinforce joints and muscles. Talk to your physician before starting an exercise routine, as it may need to be supervised by a trained physical or occupational therapist.

Consider Medication 
Drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, prednisone or lidocaine, may ease injury symptoms such as inflammation and pain. Consult your physician before beginning a medication regime; he or she will work with you to find the lowest effective dose possible.

Speak with your physician if you think you may be suffering from repetitive use syndrome. He or she can suggest better work habits that will help alleviate pain and prevent further injury down the road. To learn more about repetitive use syndrome log on to  www.nmh.org to listen to a Patient Power Webcast with Dr. Charles Carroll.

Last UpdateFebruary 8, 2011