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What Are Repetitive Motion Disorders (RMDs): Causes, Treatment & Rehab

What are repetitive motion disorders (RMDs?

  • Repetitive motion disorders (RMDs) are a family of muscular conditions that result from repeated motions performed in the course of normal work or daily activities. RMDs include
  • RMDs are caused by too many uninterrupted repetitions of an activity or motion, unnatural or awkward motions such as twisting the arm or wrist, overexertion, incorrect posture, or muscle fatigue.
  • RMDs occur most commonly in the hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, but can also happen in the neck, back, hips, knees, feet, legs, and ankles.
  • The disorders are characterized by pain, tingling, numbness, visible swelling or redness of the affected area, and the loss of flexibility and strength.
  • For some individuals, there may be no visible sign of injury, although they may find it hard to perform easy tasks.
  • Over time, RMDs can cause temporary or permanent damage to the soft tissues in the body — such as the muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments – and compression of nerves or tissue.
  • Generally, RMDs affect individuals who perform repetitive tasks such as assembly line work, meat-packing, sewing, playing musical instruments, and computer work.
  • The disorders may also affect individuals who engage in activities such as carpentry, gardening, and tennis.

Is there any treatment for repetitive motion disorders?

  • Treatment for RMDs usually includes reducing or stopping the motions that cause symptoms.
  • Options include taking breaks to give the affected area time to rest, and adopting stretching and relaxation exercises.
  • Applying ice to the affected area and using medications such as pain relievers, cortisone, and anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce pain and swelling.
  • Splints may be able to relieve pressure on the muscles and nerves.
  • Physical therapy may relieve the soreness and pain in the muscles and joints.
  • In rare cases, surgery may be required to relieve symptoms and prevent permanent damage.
  • Some employers have developed ergonomic programs to help workers adjust their pace of work and arrange office equipment to minimize problems.

What is the prognosis for repetitive motion disorders?

  • Most individuals with RMDs recover completely and can avoid re-injury by changing the way they perform repetitive movements, the frequency with which they perform them, and the amount of time they rest between movements.
  • Without treatment, RMDs may result in permanent injury and complete loss of function in the affected area.

What research is being done?

Much of the on-going research on
RMDs is aimed at prevention and rehabilitation. The National Institute of
Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) funds research on RMDs.

Select this link
to view a list of studies currently seeking patients.

Source: National Institutes of Health (


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