How to Avoid a Repetitive Motion Injury

How to Avoid a Repetitive Motion Injury

How can professional athletes perform the same motion repeatedly without injury and the need for physical therapy? How can some people type all day for a living, and others type for one or two hours and get shoulder pain? What makes some people develop tendonitis from doing a certain motion and others not? It's all about proper positioning!

Every muscle and joint in your body has an optimal range of function. This means that for every muscle and the joint or joints that it moves, there is a less-stressful position. Besides improper positioning, the second factor that can lead to a repetitive stress injury is prolonged improper posture. The strain put on a muscle or joint can be magnified by holding the position too long.

Why is it such a common problem? There are many factors that can contribute to a repetitive stress injury, including smoking, fatigue, obesity and lack of proper sleep. It seems modern life leads us to spend more and more time sitting at a computer, driving or watching TV. Our bodies were not designed to hold these positions for long periods of time.

Frequent changes in position and simple stretches can be helpful. And if you’ve got a long drive ahead of you, plan to pull over at a rest stop occasionally and try these stretches.

Why stretching?

Improved flexibility can make it easier to hold proper positions and reduce the risk of injury.

When should I stretch?

Performing several easy stretches at your desk every hour, or after you've pulled over and turned off the car, is a good habit to develop. Holding each motion for a slow prolonged stretch is best. Try to avoid bouncing or jerking; never force a muscle or joint to go beyond what is comfortable.

Who should stretch?

Everybody! If you have any concerns about your own ability to stretch, consult your physician for guidance prior to starting any stretching routine.

How should I stretch?

Here are a few stretches that can be helpful.

Neck stretches

1. Glide you head back as far as you can, keeping your head and ears level. (If you do it right, you should feel a double chin.) Now glide your head forward. Repeat 3-4 times.

2. Start with head in a comfortable, aligned position. Slowly tilt it to the side to stretch neck muscles. Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds. Be careful not to overstretch. Do this exercise 2-3 times on each side.

3. From an aligned position, turn your chin toward your left shoulder to stretch the muscles on the right side of your neck. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat on the right side. Do this exercise twice on each side.

Shoulder stretches

1. Raise the top of your shoulders toward your ears until you feel slight tension in both your neck and shoulders. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds and then relax your shoulders. Repeat 2-3 times. This exercise is especially helpful when you feel the first signs of tightness or tension in the shoulders and neck.

Arm, hand, wrist and finger stretches

1. Interlace your fingers behind your head. Keep your elbows straight out to the sides with upper body in a good aligned position. Pull your shoulder blades toward each other until you feel tension through the upper back and shoulder blades. Hold this position for 8-10 seconds, and then relax. Repeat several times.

2. Stretch your hands: separate your fingers as much as possible and hold position for 10 seconds. Relax, and then bend your fingers at the knuckles and hold for another 10 seconds. Repeat both stretches several times.

3. Interlace your fingers and straighten your arms upward. Try to reach as far up as possible with your arms. You should feel a stretch in your arms and the upper sides of the rib cage. Hold this position for 10-20 seconds, and then relax. Do it at least three times.

Getting in the habit of doing these or similar stretches regularly during the day will help reduce your risk of injury. We are all guilty of sitting in front of a computer screen, TV or windshield for too long. No one wants to develop an injury, and most people are surprised how simple it is to avoid them.

About this Experts Contributor: Joel Lewis represents North Hill Physical Therapy, providing physical therapy services in Milton, Washington. He is board certified through the American Board of Physical Therapy as an orthopedic clinical specialist, and he specialties in orthopedic rehabilitation.

As of  November 4, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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