Stress Injuries

By Niki Kelley

Stress Injuries

Stress Injuries can be brought on by too much physical activity.

Image of a runner experiencing a stress injury.

Introduction

Stress injuries can be defined as injuries caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, and sustained or awkward positions. There are many types of injuries that can fall into the category of stress injuries. These stress injuries primarily affect soft tissue which includes nerves, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. You can also develop a stress fracture, which is a tiny crack in a bone from repetitive force. You get these stress injuries from repetitive motions and positions throughout the course of your normal work day and daily activities. We will now discuss the causes of these injuries, who are most at risk, the common locations of these injuries, signs and symptoms, as well as treatment options.

Causes of Stress Injuries

Repetitive stress injuries can be caused by multiple factors. These may include:

  1. Repetitive uninterrupted activity or motion.
  2. Unnatural motions such as twisting or rotation.
  3. Incorrect posture.
  4. Muscle fatigue.
  5. Overexertion.
  6. Increasing intensity or amount of activity too quickly.
  7. Weakened bone due to osteoporosis.

Who is at Risk?

Occupational Risk: Repetitive injuries usually occur in individuals who perform repetitive tasks, repeated motion patterns, or prolonged posture as part of their job. Jobs such as an assembly line worker, meatpacker, musician, computer worker, desk job worker, carpenter, and a manual labor worker such as a construction worker are more at risk for these types of injuries. These injuries are due to a cumulative trauma rather than a single event.

Non-occupational Risks: Athletes who play sports that require the same movement, in similar planes and ranges, are more predisposed to developing stress injuries. Tennis, pitching in softball and baseball, golf, and running are common sports associated with these types of injuries. Technology has also increased the rate of stress injuries. Blackberry thumb, iPod finger, and PlayStation thumb are a few examples of this. Increased psychological stress has been shown to worsen repetitive stress injuries.

Common Locations:

Repetitive injuries can affect almost any movable part of the human body. These injuries most commonly occur in the upper extremity. Your hands, fingers, thumbs, wrists, elbows and shoulders are usually most affected. These injuries can also affect your neck, back, hips, knees, feet, and ankles. Stress fractures mainly occur in the lower extremity. The most common locations of stress fractures include; metatarsal bones of the foot, navicular bone in the foot, calcaneus (heel), tibia/fibula (shin), femur(thigh), femoral neck(hip), and areas of the pelvis and lumbar spine.

Signs and Symptoms:

The most common sign and symptom of stress injuries is usually pain. One may also experience tingling, numbness, redness in the affected area, visible swelling, loss of flexibility in the area, sensitivity to cold/heat and loss of strength. Some may have no visible sign of injury but find it hard to perform their usual work tasks or hobbies.

Treatment Options: 

Treatment for repetitive injuries usually always includes reducing the motion that is causing the symptoms until the injury can be assessed and treated appropriately. Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce pain and swelling. Taking medications such as NSAIDs can also help with the pain and swelling to the affected area.

A physical therapist can evaluate your injury and provide you with appropriate stretches, strengthening exercises, and activity modification to help you heal. Work place ergonomics are very important to help decrease the risk of repetitive injuries. A physical therapist can help ensure your work environment is safe for you and help minimize the stress placed on the affected area.

By: Niki Kelley

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