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Repetitive Motion Disorders (RMDs)

Part 1 of 2

Peer Reviewed
Certain job tasks or activities of daily living require many of us to perform repeated movements of the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, and back. Over time, these movements can cause damage to various parts of the body. These injuries, which are among the most common injuries in the United States, are referred to as Repetitive Motion Disorders (RMDs).

What are RMDs?
As the name suggests, repetitive motion disorders are a group of musculoskeletal conditions caused by movements that are performed repeatedly. RMDs can be caused by:

• Overexertion
• Incorrect posture
• Friction caused by an unnatural or awkward motion such as twisting the arm or wrist

RMDs may cause symptoms because of muscle fatigue, local inflammation and swelling or compression of nerve tissue. Examples of RMDs include:

• Carpal tunnel syndrome - when the narrowed tunnel of bones and ligaments in the wrist pinches the nerves in the fingers and the muscles at the base of the thumb.
• Bursitis - an inflammation of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) that lies between a tendon and skin, or between a tendon and bone.
• Tendonitis - an inflammation, irritation, and swelling of a tendon.
• Epicondylitis (tennis elbow) - an inflammation, soreness, or pain on the outside of the upper arm near the elbow.
• Ganglion cyst - when tissues surrounding certain joints, usually the wrist, become inflamed and swell up with fluid.
• Tenosynovitis - when the lining of the sheath that surrounds a tendon becomes inflamed.
• Trigger finger - a painful or painless clicking or snapping or locking of a finger.

It is important to note, however, that all of the above conditions may have other causes and occur in the absence of repetitive motion.

Who is at risk for RMDs?
Anyone who engages in repetitive activities can get a RMD. Certain professions and activities increase the risk, including:

• Assembly line work
• Meatpacking
• Sewing
• Playing musical instruments
• Computer work/typing (or in the case of children, playing video or computer games)
• Carpentry
• Gardening
• Sports such as tennis or golf
• Lifting children

What are symptoms of RMDs?
Symptoms of these disorders may include one or more of the following:

• Pain or stiffness in the fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, neck or back.
• Tingling or numbness in the hands or fingers.
• 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 easy tasks.

Injuries caused be repetitive movements usually develop slowly over a period of time. Initially the symptoms may be mild and come and go. However, if left untreated, the symptoms can become very painful and even debilitating.

Updated on: 12/10/09
Daniel A. Brzusek, DO
RMDs are a recognized cause of a great deal of our "nuisance" etiologies for pain problems. Evaluating the causes ergonomically is a very important portion of the diagnostic plan for patients with this condition. Mapping out a specific strategies for change is imperative, otherwise the treatment plan will fail without attempting to change the offending repetitive task that originated the problem.
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