Repetitive motions can lead to wear and tear of your joints and painful injuries.

Repetitive motions can lead to wear and tear of your joints and painful injuries.

They’re common among people who do jobs that require repetitive motions such as typing, working on an assembly line, or painting. But repetitive-motion injuries aren’t confined to the work world. They’re also common in athletes, with more than half of all sports injuries being caused by repetitive motions. Injuries are then made worse by the movements required by daily life. Even getting dressed in the morning can become a dreaded chore for someone with a shoulder injury.

What are repetitive-motion injuries, how are they treated, and can they be avoided? Keep reading to find out.

Many Names

Repetitive-motion injuries go by many names: repetitive stress injuries, overuse syndrome, repetition strain, or cumulative trauma disorder. No matter the name, they’re all caused by the same thing: repetitive motions with little rest in between. Performing the same movements over and over can lead to acute or chronic injury to any muscles, ligaments, tendons, or nerves involved in the motion.

A few of the most common types of repetitive motion injuries include tendinitis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff injury, and tennis elbow. Overusing a part of the body causes tiny tears in the tissue. Without time for the body to heal (because the motions keep happening), inflammation and pain set in.

Now What?

You’ve been noticing worsening pain, but you don’t remember suffering a specific injury. Most likely the increasing pain is the result of repetitive motions. Before calling the doctor, you may want to try some home-care remedies. Rest the joint or part of the body for a few days, and avoid any activity that causes pain. If possible, spend time each day elevating the problem area. Apply an ice pack two to three times a day for 20 to 30 minutes.

Call your doctor when home-care doesn’t work or when you’re suffering from unexplained pain, joint tenderness, warmth or redness around a joint, pain that interferes with normal daily activities, or pain that interrupts your sleep. Seek immediate medical care if joint pain is severe or is accompanied by fever, nausea, or vomiting.


The form of treatment for a repetitive motion injury will depend on the type and severity of injury. In addition to your home-care treatments, you may be advised to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Your doctor may also give a steroid injection to the problem area to speed healing. Moist heat, topical pain-relieving creams, specially designed bands or splints, or physical therapy to restore range of motion and strengthen the problem area are also commonly recommended.

Injury Prevention

The best repetitive-motion injury is the one that never happened. Take steps now to prevent injury. When exercising, always start out with a warm-up and end with a cool-down to give your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments time to adjust. Spend time performing range-of-motion exercises that work all parts of your body, and be sure to get adequate rest between challenging workouts. If you have a weak spot, use proper equipment designed to limit stress on a particular area.

In the workplace, sit and stand with proper posture. Make sure your chair supports your lower back, place your feet flat on the floor, and sit with your thighs parallel to the floor. Try to avoid crossing your legs. Keep your computer screen at eye level and use a headset when talking on the telephone. Finally, take frequent breaks and stand up, walk around, stretch—especially those muscles that you use repetitively, or march in place.