What are repetitive motion disorders?
Repetitive motion disorders (RMDs) are a family of muscular conditions that result from repeated motions performed during the normal work or daily activities. The disorders are caused by too many uninterrupted repetitions of an activity or motion, unnatural or awkward motions such as twisting the arm or wrist, overexertion, incorrect posture, or muscle fatigue. RMDs include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Ganglion cyst
- Trigger finger
RMDs occur most commonly in the hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, but can also happen in the neck, back, hips, knees, feet, legs, and ankles. The disorders are characterized by:
- Visible swelling or redness of the affected area
- Loss of flexibility and strength
For some individuals, there may be no visible sign of injury, although they may find it hard to perform relatively easy tasks. Over time, RMDs can cause temporary or permanent damage to the soft tissues in the body—such as the muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments—and compression of nerves or tissue.
Generally, RMDs affect individuals who perform repetitive tasks such as assembly line work, bartending, meatpacking, sewing, playing musical instruments, and computer work. The disorders may also affect individuals who engage in activities such as carpentry, gardening, and tennis.
Treatment includes reducing or stopping the motions that cause symptoms. Options include:
- Taking breaks to give the affected area time to rest
- Adopting stretching and relaxation exercises
Applying ice to the affected area and using medications such as pain relievers, cortisone, and anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce pain and swelling. Splints may be able to relieve pressure on the muscles and nerves. Physical therapy may relieve the soreness and pain in the muscles and joints.
In rare cases, surgery may be required to relieve symptoms and prevent permanent damage. Some employers have developed ergonomic programs to help workers adjust their pace of work and arrange office equipment to minimize problems.
Most individuals with RMDs recover completely and can avoid re-injury by changing the way they perform repetitive movements, the frequency with which they perform them, and the amount of time they rest between movements. Without treatment, RMDs may result in permanent injury and complete loss of function in the affected area.
How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with repetitive motion disorders?
Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about RMDs and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.
All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.
For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with RMDs at Clinicaltrials.gov.
Where can I find more information about repetitive motion disorders?
Information may be available from the following resources:
American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)
Phone: 916-632-0922 or 800-533-3231
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
Phone: 301-496-8190 or 877-226-4267