Physical Therapy for Repetitive Motion Injuries
February 03, 2017
By Jan Tregre, DPT, Southern Physical Therapy
Repetitive motion injuries, or overuse syndromes, cause chronic damage to joints or tendons over time due to continuous repetitive movement. Some common overuse syndromes include carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, neck pain, back pain, and rotator cuff tendonitis. Overuse injuries commonly occur on the job, such as during computer work, driving, and industrial machine operation. It is most important to prevent any injury beforehand through workplace ergonomic assessment and safety education. Many employers have safety and training programs to decrease the occurrence of repetitive injuries in the workplace. When an injury is not prevented, however, physical therapy is the first step to relieving pain and restoring physical function.
The cause of repetitive motion injuries is inflammation. An inflammatory condition is a natural biological response to something that is harmful or irritating to your body. As a movement is repeated, the immune system produces chemicals to try to heal the strained tendon or joint. The results of inflammation include redness, warmth, and swelling. If this process is not stopped, inflammation can become chronic and fibrotic. By this time, the injury produces pain and stiffness, leading to changes in function and abnormal compensation for the injured body part.
Physical therapy can reduce pain, speed up healing time, and restore normal joint or tendon function. Injury prevention and ergonomic education are also an important part of what physical therapy does in the case of overuse syndromes. Often, a simple change of posture or improved efficiency in movement can make the difference in preventing further injuries. In order to treat the damage caused by overuse syndromes, physical therapists use non-harmful exercises, therapeutic modalities, and hands-on manual therapy interventions.
Exercise is one of the primary approaches that physical therapy takes to rehabilitation after injury. Initial exercises will consist of active range of motion (AROM), passive range of motion (PROM), and stretching within a protected movement without causing additional inflammation. During therapy, the joints and muscles above and below the injured body part are treated to improve strength and flexibility. This initial phase is focused on allowing the body to begin healing while reducing abnormal inflammation and increasing blood flow to the injured area. Once pain-free range of motion is restored, then the exercises can be progressed for strengthening and stabilization of the healing area.
Therapeutic modalities are used in combination with exercises to help improve healing and reduce pain. Ice and heat are two basic modalities used to reduce inflammation or increase extensibility, and affect sensation of pain. Therapeutic ultrasound is also used to provide a deeper change in tissue metabolism for more effective stretching or manual treatments. Electrical stimulation is used to reduce pain, increase circulation, and even to stimulate contractions for re-education of muscle function.
Manual therapy is performed by a skilled clinician in areas of deep tissue and joint manipulation, passive stretching, and dry needling. Manual interventions can be the most effective part of treatment, often relieving pain and muscle spasms, correcting joint positions, and improving the body’s natural ability to reduce inflammation and heal.
Because physical therapy incorporates movements and treatments designed to promote healing and reduce pain without invasive procedures, it is the most effective medical management for overuse syndromes and work-related repetitive motion injuries. Once an injury is rehabilitated, the cycle of inflammation can be broken through ergonomic education and re-training on specific and appropriate ways to perform the job without risk of further injury.
Jan Tregre, DPT, practices at Southern Physical Therapy, LLC, located on Hwy 98 W in Oak Grove at 7 Willow Bend Drive in the North Lake Serene Office Park. For more information on the benefits of physical therapy call 601-336-8287 or visit www.SoPhysicalTherapy.com.
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