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Repetitive use injuries, part 1: carpal tunnel and other disorders

Many people have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition involving pain and weakness in the hands and wrists. It is often associated in the popular mind with office workers who must engage in constant typing.

But repetitive use injuries include other types of conditions besides carpal tunnel. Indeed, they are not limited to the upper body; they can include the back as well. Indeed, when broadly defined, repetitive use injuries can also include damage to knees and other areas of the lower body.

In this post, we will try to put repetitive use injuries suffered at work into a larger context. We will do this by introducing a term used by federal regulatory authorities to refer to such injuries. This term is "work-related musculoskeletal disorders" (WMSD).

Obviously that term is quite a mouthful. But when you break it out, "musculoskeletal" is composed of two pretty basic words: muscles and skeleton.

In practice, it refers to a number of different disorders or injuries that affect not only the wrist and hands (as in carpal tunnel) but also many other body parts.

These can include:
• Muscles and nerves
• Tendons
• Cartilage
• Discs in the back

There are two ways in which these musculoskeletal injuries can be work-related. One is when work contributed to the condition. The other is when work makes the condition worse or makes it last longer than it would have otherwise.

Of course, there are many and various ways besides typing in which repetitive strain can occur. For example, construction workers are often at risk of developing RSI from frequent hammering.

Lifting heavy objects is also notoriously problematic. For more information about workers' compensation for those injuries, please visit our page on lifting injuries.

But those are only the most obvious scenarios. There are many other ways in which repetitive strain can cause work-related injuries. We will discuss more of those in part two of this post.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSD) Prevention," Accessed April 24, 2014

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