Repetitive Stress or Strain Injuries

The ligaments, tendons, and muscles of the spine are very strong, and resist tearing as a result of an injury. Because of the strength of these muscles and soft tissues, the cause of chronic back pain is not typically a result of a fall or injury. On the other hand, poor posture and repetitive stress on the ligaments and tendons of the back may cause these soft tissues to be stretched, which may cause permanent changes to their length, causing instability of that section of the spine, and possibly back pain. Many different types of syndromes are commonly associated with repetitive use of a limb or joints, and many of them affect the soft tissues surrounding a joint. These are many names for repetitive stress or strain injuries, and many of them have names specific to the joints involved and the body motions that caused the strain on their associated soft tissues. Other names for repetitive stress injuries include cumulative trauma disorders and overuse syndromes. Symptoms of repetitive stress or strain injuries include lack of endurance, weakness, inflammation, swelling, pain, and numbness. The following occupational or lifestyle factors may be involved with these types of syndromes:
  • Thousands of repetitive movements daily that involve little force, but nearly identical motions.
  • Dozens of daily movements that involve greater force, such as the lifting, pulling, and/or carrying of heavy objects.
  • Continue use of poor posture in one's lifestyle, such as sitting, standing, walking, and lifting and carrying objects. Improper posture may result in misuse or mispositioning of the trunk of the body, shoulders and limbs. This improper positioning of the body parts may cause the ligaments and tendons that support them to become stretched or strained.


Repeated poor posture, pulling and carrying of heavy loads, and repetitive movements may cause changes to the soft tissues that support the joints and muscles. The body may respond to these changes through pain signals, alerting us of the increasing instability of these joints. There is ample evidence that many repetitive stress or strain injuries are caused by repeated motions in sporting activities and occupational hazards. Repeated lifting and carrying of heavy loads at work may be associated with lower back pain or pain in the shoulders. Repeated typing in office environments is though to be the cause of many of the cases of carpal tunnel syndrome. Golfer's elbow and tennis elbow are similar conditions caused by repetitive use. Also, certain factors unique to each individual may be involved towards telling us how susceptible certain people are to these types of soft tissues injuries. These factors may include physical abnormalities and improper healing from a previous injury.

Though icing and rest may be a proper treatment for many types of orthopedic injuries, continued immobilization or rest of soft tissue injuries caused by repetitive stress is not considered appropriate. Prolonged resting and disuse of these joints may slow or prohibit the healing process because it restricts blood flow. Movement and use of the body increases blood flow in the areas being used, which is essential to tissue repair and regeneration.

Click here for examples of repetitive stress or strain injuries.