Sarah Martinez

Is a repetitive motion causing your pain?

A common concern my patient’s share with me when discussing the history of their injury is “I’m not sure what caused my pain, I can’t remember doing anything to injure it, I’m not doing anything new or different.” Oftentimes the patient is frustrated because they didn’t expect their pain to linger for this long, hence why they have come to see me. Soon after the above statement I often will hear “I’ve had some pain off and on in the past (back/knee/shoulder or some other body part), but it would always go away in a couple days and then I’d be fine.” At this point to me, I’m thinking their current pain is most likely (not always) associated with a movement pattern done in their daily lives they would never think to pair with their current pain/injury. These daily movement pattern I like to call “the repeat offender”, a repetitive motion that the patient does every day. Let’s go over a real-world example of a patient who came to see me with knee pain. Below is the history she gave me and some background information for context.

“A 29-year-old female works in an assembly line setting. Every day at work she moves her freight from right to left along a conveyor belt to be sent to the next person down the line. She is active and goes to the gym 3x/week and does kickboxing. She says her knee began hurting about a month ago and tells me she is not sure what caused her pain, but it is the worst when she is at work and when walking. She even shared with me she had to call in several times because the pain was so bad.”

Following the discussion of her history, we went through some movement testing and assessments, followed by treatment and discussed the likely reasons for her pain.

After reading the above example of what this patient told me about her knee, do you think you know what may be one of the root causes for her pain? In this post we are specifically focusing on something repetitive that this person does frequently. Still not sure? It was her work. She spends 12 hours a day, roughly, 3-4 days a week, repetitively moving her freight from her right to her left. After talking with her more specifically about how she performs her job, she told me she keeps her feet stationary while twisting her body to the right to move her items. Together we discovered other ways for her to move while at work, discussed manual treatment and I demonstrated exercises to prevent future injuries. I gave her an at home exercise program and after one treatment her pain was reduced by 75%. She continued to be consistent with her exercises at home, she happily reported back to me that she had zero pain after one week.

That was one in depth example. Here are some additional examples of different populations and likely repetition(s) they do throughout their day which could be contributing to ongoing pain:

  • A mother of a baby or young child: holding baby or young child always on their left or right side; laying the baby/young child into crib/bed always bending right or left; nursing position, etc.
  • Office worker/manager: posture when working on a computer and is the computer set up ergonomically correct for eye level? Always turning right or left to answer the phone, reaching for your coffee/water, pen and paper, etc.
  • Cosmetologist: bending to one side or the other throughout the day to wash client’s hair; wrist positioning when cutting or styling?

These are all brief examples, and every person is, of course, unique. Hopefully this post gives you some suggestions if you are having pain about what repetitive motion you do in your life that what could be your “repeat offender”. There are many different ways we move, and we all form different movement patterns based on what we do throughout our lives. Your movement pattern is very different from anyone else’s, which is why your body may respond differently than another person’s. You are not a one size fits all, cookie cutter person, you are you, and your body will respond differently than that friend of yours who said, “Try this, it worked for me!” This is where a physical therapist can be such an asset! We are specialists in human movement and will design a treatment plan for YOU.

Dr. Sarah Martinez DPT

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*DISCLOSURE the purpose of this article was to illustrate that a repetitive movement could be the cause of and/or contribute to your pain, there is no guarantee that it is the cause of your pain. Each individual will have unique factors that apply to them and should be evaluated by a physical therapist or another medical professional.