Cumulative Trauma Disorders

Cumulative Trauma Disorders

By Dave Van Zandt, CSCS, CEAS, Cert FCE

Cumulative Trauma Disorders(CTDs) are caused from an accumulation of repetitive microtrauma to the body’s tissues.  CTDs, also referred to as Repetitive Motion Injuries or overuse injuries, can occur in both the industrial and athletic populations.  They are often seen in activities requiring prolonged, repetitive movements.  The symptoms of a CTD are often slow to develop.  Many people will avoid going to the doctor and just modify their activity until the pain subsides, while others will try to work or play through their pain.  After all, “No Pain, No Gain.”  However, this should not be the case with overuse injuries as long term medical problems, such as arthritis, can occur if CTDs go undiagnosed.

Risk Factors

Those most susceptible to CTDs are people whose work or athletic activities involve often-repeated motions.  However, anyone in any type of job or activity can get a CTD by regularly repeating certain movements over a period of time.  For a variety of reasons some people may be more susceptible to CTDs.  Certain factors that may increase the risk of injury are:

  • Constant Repetition (the more frequent a movement is performed, the longer it takes for tissues to recover)
  • Working with Excessive Force (using heavier equipment or machinery can put additional stress on the body)
  • Working in Awkward Postures (certain postures can place additional stress on the body)
  • Improper Technique or Form (using poor technique places un-necessary stress on the body)
  • Poor Physical Conditioning (specifically, a lack of flexibility or strength means the body may not be able to adapt to the stresses of the activity)
  • Vibration, Hot or Cold Temperatures, and Improperly Designed Tools can also contribute to CTD

Types of Repetitive Motion Injuries

CTDs can affect a variety of the body’s tissues.  Common tissues affected are tendons (connect muscle to bones), bursa (fluid-filled sacs that provide protection), bones, and nerves.  Types of CTDs include:

  • Tendonitis (microtears in the tendon due to repetitive stretching)
  • Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa sac due to repetitive microtrauma)
  • Neuritis (irritation or inflammation of a nerve caused by repetitive stretching)
  • Epicondylitis (inflammation of the tendon that attaches to the elbow joint)
  • Stress Fracture (tiny cracks in a bone caused by repetitive pounding microtrauma

Common Symptoms of Repetitive Motion Injuries

Symptoms may be experienced during the activity or a couple hours later, and are usually worse at night.  Symptoms that may be associated with a repetitive motion injury include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Difficulty with Daily Activities
  • Decreased Flexibility and Strength

Treatment of Repetitive Motion Injuries

The best treatment for a CTD is early intervention and prevention.  Typical treatment of CTD’s consists of:

  • Identify and Correct the Problem (once you are able to identify a problematic activity, take the necessary steps to prevent accumulated stresses)
  • Heat and/or Cold (use ice for the first couple of days pain is noticed, then use heat prior to activity and ice afterwards)
  • Restricted Motion (using a brace that limits the amount of movement into the painful range can aid in recovery)
  • Muscle Flexibility and Strengthening Exercises (a specific exercise program based on your type of injury should be set up by a qualified rehabilitation professional)
  • See your Doctor (if you feel you may have an overuse injury or have had any prolonged pain, it is advisable that you seek medical attention by contacting your physician