Handout: Dealing with activity related pain

It is normal for some people to have pain during or after certain types of activities.

STRENUOUS ACTIVITIES may cause discomfort because very strenuous exercise results in microscopic muscle damage, and the body's response is inflammation - pain and swelling. Symptoms from strenuous activities are often made more tolerable by heat and stretching before activity, and icing down the sore area after activity. Without adequate prior conditioning, prolonged periods of unusually strenuous activity may trigger a variety of inflammatory musculoskeletal conditions.

REPETITIVE ACTIVITIES such as keyboard or assembly work may also cause discomfort. This is different than symptoms from pushing muscles to the limits of strength, because muscle damage or inflammation does not occur. Symptoms from repetitive light activities are usually due to muscle fatigue due to steady muscle contraction without full relaxation. There is no scientific evidence that light repetitive activities cause any permanent damage or lingering problems with the hands, despite popular opinions to the contrary. Hands are designed to perform continuous activities. Muscles may ache from fatigue of continuous use, depending on the activity, muscle conditioning and individual factors. Individual factors appear to be the primary contributing factor in symptoms attributed to repetitive activities. The most common individual factors to precipitate symptoms are the effects of age, problems with the the body's normal chemistry or hormone levels and stress in the workplace.

STRESS: It has been shown that for some people, the body's natural reaction to prolonged mental stress affects their normal automatic pattern of muscle action and relaxation. This results in poor muscle relaxation - both in muscles performing obvious actions and in those maintaining the body's posture. As a consequence, routine activities in a stressful environment may be associated with muscle tension or muscle fatigue symptoms. Because stress is difficult to either measure or treat, the current focus of management is on the physical aspects of the workplace, according to ergonomic recommendations.

ERGONOMICS refers to the way posture and body position effects comfort during and after work. Typical ergonomic recommendations include: being well supported, allowing relaxation while maintaining a neutral posture; frequent brief breaks for stretching exercises. Specific aspects of the workplace are taken into account for specific recommendations. Because the field of ergonomics is new, many ergonomic guidelines are based on theory, with little documentation of their effectiveness in symptoms attributed to light repetitive activities. Obviously, neither ergonomics nor surgery can solve problems relating to job dissatisfaction, stress, secondary gain or other individual factors.