What Are Repetitive Motion Disorders?

Repetitive Motion Disorders Affect Millions of People

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Repetitive motion disorders are a large group of conditions that primarily affect the soft tissues, including the nerves, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Repetitive motion disorders include a family of muscular conditions that result from repeated motions performed in the course of normal work or daily activities. Repetitive motion disorders are also called:

  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders
  • Repetitive Stress Injuries
  • Overuse Syndromes

Repetitive motion disorders can include:

Close-up of a woman in pain holding her shoulder
Brand X Pictures / Tetra Images / Getty Images


Repetitive motion disorders 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
  • muscle fatigue

Common Locations

Repetitive motion disorders occur most commonly in the:

  • hands
  • fingers
  • thumbs
  • wrists
  • elbows
  • shoulders

Repetitive motion disorders can also happen in:


Repetitive motion disorders are often characterized by:

  • pain
  • tingling
  • numbness
  • visible swelling or redness of the affected area
  • loss of flexibility and strength of the affected area

For some individuals, there may be no visible sign of injury, although they may find it hard to perform easy tasks.

Over time, repetitive motion disorders can cause temporary or permanent damage to the soft tissues in the body such as the:

  • muscles
  • nerves
  • tendons
  • ligaments

Repetitive motion disorders can also cause compression of nerves or tissue.

Risk Factors

Generally, repetitive motion disorders affect individuals who perform repetitive tasks such as:

  • assembly line work
  • meatpacking
  • sewing
  • playing musical instruments
  • computer work

Repetitive motion disorders may also affect individuals who engage in activities such as:

  • carpentry
  • gardening
  • tennis


Treatment for repetitive motion disorders usually includes reducing or stopping the motions that cause symptoms.

Repetitive motion disorder treatment options can also include:

  • taking breaks to give the affected area time to rest
  • adopting stretching and relaxation exercises
    applying ice to the affected area to reduce pain and swelling
    using medications, such as:
    pain relievers
  • corticosteroids
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • 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.


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


Most individuals with repetitive motion disorders recover completely and can avoid re-injury by:

  • changing the way they perform repetitive movements
  • changing the frequency with which they perform them
  • changing the amount of time they rest between movements

Without treatment, repetitive motion disorders may result in permanent injury and complete loss of function in the affected area.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Oh S, Kim HK, Kwak J, et al. Causes of hand tingling in visual display terminal workersAnn Rehabil Med. 2013;37(2):221-228. doi:10.5535/arm.2013.37.2.221

  2. Columbia University Department of Neurology. Repetitive motion injury.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.