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Top 10 Things to Do if You've Been Diagnosed with a Repetitive Stress Injury

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So, you've been diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury, or you suspect you have one and would like to know what to do next. Arming yourself with good ergonomic information is a good thing.

The good news is that repetitive stress injuries are caused by just that, repetitive stress, and can often be fixed by removing the stressor. That bad news is it is not always easy to find the problem. To aid your recovery here are 10 things to do if you've been diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury.

1. Get a Second Opinion

While the pain can be intense and localized, some repetitive stress injuries can be tricky to diagnose. Many present with rather general symptoms. So the first thing to do when you've been diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury is to get a second opinion.

And get that second opinion in a different field. If it was your doctor, go to a chiropractor. If it was your company’s ergonomic specialist, ask your personal trainer. Let someone with a different perspective take a look. You can then feel confident in your treatment path and might learn something new along the way.

2. Stop Hurting Yourself

Improper Computer Setup
2006, Chris Adams, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Repetitive stress injuries are caused by repetitive stress, so once you've been diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury you need to isolate the tasks that are causing your injury and stop them. Better yet, stop doing anything that causes pain. Your body is calling out to you. Listen to it. Rest is the start to the healing process.

“What if I can’t stop? I’ve got a job.” Stop making excuses. This is your health. Take a couple of days off and rest those bones and muscles. Failure to deal with things now could turn a small problem into a huge one.

3. Stretch

Essential Eye Strain Relief for Relieving Repetitive Stress
2006, Amy Mosley Photography, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Stretching is a key factor in keeping the body healthy. It removes tension and increases blood flow, not to mention that it just feels good. If you've been diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury you need to start stretching and continue it once you have healed to reduce the chance of it coming back.

In terms of treatment, you should gently stretch all the muscles in the area of concern. Start at the pain and move one joint out. Stretch all the major muscles from that joint to the spine. If you can’t stretch a muscle then massage it. Stretch 6-8 times a day.

4. Do NOT wear an ergonomic support

We've all seen them: bands, wraps, braces. They are somewhere between the aspirin and the shoe inserts. And they all tout their therapeutic qualities.  Chances are that if you've been diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury you've also been told what to do to fix it.  Follow that advice and don't wear a brace unless you are told to by your doctor.

Don't look for a quick fix. This problem took time to develop and it’ll take time to heal. Some of these aids can be helpful if used correctly and they may become part of your treatment. Some help manage the pain. Some are garbage. But all can cause more damage if they’re used incorrectly.

5. Pain - Get Used to It

Pain is the body’s way of telling us that some thing's wrong. You’ll need it, so get use to it. Pain management may become part of your treatment, but while finding the cause of your problem, pain is your chief informer.

There are times where pain management is helpful, like bed time, but you have to be careful. The wrong type of relief can do more harm than good. For example, heating pads can ease the ache, but a lot of injuries owe some of their pain to inflammation, and heat makes that worse.

6. Isolate the Cause

If you've been diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury you nned to find the cause of your injury. Look at anything you do more than twice a day or for more than 30 minutes at a time. If it involves the area of concern take note of it. The stressors will often jump out at you because your pain will tell you to stop it.

Be specific. For example, typing is not the problem. How you hold your hands or the keyboard position are the stressors. In your weakened condition minor stressors play a more significant part. Look for them as well.

7. Change Your Habits

Now that you have identified what is causing the problem, stop doing it. Simple isn’t it? If it is something you can't stop then reduce the frequency as much as possible and use good ergonomic principles to support the action when you do perform it.

Diligently train yourself to change your habit. While it only takes a week to create a new habit, it takes a month to break or change an existing one. So stick with it. We're all behind you (the roar of the supporting crowd echoes through your ears).

8. Track Your Pain

Visual Analog Pain Scale
Chris Adams, copyright 2006, license to About.com
Pain has told you how bad you were. Now it's going to tell you how good you are.

Track your pain on a visual analog pain scale. Keep a file next to the problem work area. Mark the spot on the scale that represents your pain level at the beginning and end of the task. Date and time stamp it.

This will track your pain level over time. If you have taken care of the causes, you should see a reduction of pain. If it isn't reducing then that wasn't the problem, or at least not the only one.

9. Get in Shape

A repetitive stress injury occurs when something is overworked. Once your pain has reduced it is time to strengthen the muscles so that they can handle the workload that got them into this.

Exercise the muscles in the area of concern. Start slow and use your pain as a guide. Err on the side of caution. If it starts to hurt, stop.

The use of braces and supports is not a good idea. If you need a brace to keep from hurting yourself, then you are not ready to exercise. Consult a doctor or trainer.

10. Seek Professional Treatment Options

If things are not getting any better or you just can not seem to find the stressors causing your problem, then it is time to explore other treatments. Your doctor, chiropractor, physical trainer, personal trainer, or anyone else who deals with the body for a living will most likely have a course of treatment that will cure you of your discomfort. And most of them will be different, so remember to get a second opinion on your treatment options as well.
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