A repetitive strain injury occurs when a person uses the same part of his body to perform a task over and over. Carpal tunnel syndrome is commonly thought of when considering repetitive strain injuries. Someone also can injure his neck or back by repeatedly sitting incorrectly or strain his eyes by staring at a monitor or reading small print all day. Repetitive strain injury can damage the nerves, muscles, or tendons. A prolonged injury can cause a person to lose control of parts of his body.
Although using a computer mouse or keyboard is often thought of as the main culprit in a repetitive strain injury, any awkward or repeated movement can lead to an injury. For instance, bread bakers are at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome from kneading bread dough on a regular basis. A pianist or guitarist may experience a repetitive strain injury from repeatedly strumming the guitar strings or pressing the piano keys. Women are more likely than men to develop certain repetitive strain injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome.
Common symptoms of a repetitive strain injury include numbness in the hands or arms, burning or extreme constant pain in the affected area, and a loss of coordination. Some people may find that they have become clumsier, drop things more easily or simply cannot get a good grip on objects. One type of repetitive strain injury, trigger finger, causes a person's fingers to stiffen and remain locked in a bent position.
If a strain injury is allowed to progress without treatment, a person may lose the ability to function normally. Depending on how it affects his ability to work, he may have to resign from his job and may have trouble finding a new one. Everyday activities, such as opening a jar or turning a knob, may become difficult or impossible to do.
One of the best ways to treat any type of repetitive strain injury is to prevent it. Specially designed computer keyboards can relieve the pressure on the median nerve and reduce the chance of carpal tunnel syndrome. Using a mixer to knead bread dough can reduce strain on the wrists. Sitting in a chair properly and avoiding awkward postures can prevent strain on the neck and back. Increasing the size of the text on a computer screen or reading a large-print book can reduce stress on the eyes.
Other treatments for stress injuries include resting the affected area for a period of time or doing exercises to strengthen the muscles. Some people may need to wear a wrist splint or a back brace. Severe cases may require surgical treatment to fix the problem.