Cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) are characterized by injury to the musculoskeletal system, and often affect joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. These injuries are often induced by repeated stress or overuse while working, playing sports, or engaging in other potentially strenuous activities. CTDs are the most significant work-related health issues in the United States today.
CTD is not a disease, but instead, it is an unpleasant response to repeated demands on the body without giving it adequate time to recover before more stress is incurred. Here we discuss the different forms of CTDs, their causes, and how these problems can lead to drug abuse or alcoholism.
Causes of Cumulative Trauma Disorders
CTDs are usually the result of a combination of risk factors, which can include the following:
- Repetitive motion, especially those involving pushing, pulling, lifting, or gripping
- Awkward body positions that are not ergonomically correct
- Holding the same body position without resting or moving for an extended period
- Mechanical compression of the hand against hard edges (e.g., tools that place pressure on the palms) combined with the rapid movement of the body (e.g., swinging the arm)
- Vibration, particularly in cold environments, (e.g., use of vibrating hand tools)
- Psychological stress that causes muscles to tighten and restrict blood flow without pause or time off
Common CTD symptoms include discomfort, pain, and swelling in the affected body part(s).
All body parts need a constant supply of blood sufficient in oxygen and nutrients to function effectively. Reducing the blood supply can lead to the injury of bodily tissues. Tension in the muscles can obstruct the blood supply, which is the body’s primary fuel and energy source.
However, muscles can still garner energy without oxygen from lactic acid. Unfortunately, lactic acid, a chemical byproduct of anaerobic respiration, is very effective at inducing pain. And as pain increases, muscles continue to tighten to protect the injured site, further reducing the blood supply. If nerves do not receive enough blood and the area is being pinched off by muscle tension, they may begin to tingle and go numb.
Injuries that result from repetitive motions can cause tissue damage from repeated trauma, such as typing or painting. In fact, almost any activity that regularly causes trauma to soft tissue, such as nerves, muscles, and tendons can result in CTD. Moreover, the injury is caused by repeatedly performing the same movements, rather than by trauma that occurs due to a single event.
Continuing to use and abuse muscles and joints after they are already worn out increases the likelihood of injury. When these body parts are overworked without rest, they are not given a chance to recover.
Incorrect or Static Posture
Awkward sitting and standing postures place unnecessary stress on the body and can lead to pain and stiffness. Joints are meant to move, and if held for too long, even correct positioning can be considered overuse.
Types of Cumulative Trauma Disorders
Tendon Disorders (Tendonitis)
CTDs are common disorders of the tendons, which are flexible cords of strong, fibrous collagen tissue that attach a muscle to a bone. Tendon disorders can also affect the synovial sheaths, which are coverings that protect the tendon itself. Symptoms may include the following:
- Dull ache around the injured tendon
- Tenderness in the area when touched
- Discomfort or stiffness associated with specific movements
- Incapacitating pain caused by repeated injuries when left untreated.
Common types of tendon disorders include tenosynovitis, Tennis elbow, Golfer’s elbow, and tendonitis of the bicep, ankle, or rotator cuff.
In addition to tendon trauma, stress on the nerves resulting from repetitive pressing against hard edges of work surfaces, tools, or bones can lead to nerve CTDs. Nerve-related CTD syndromes caused in the workplace include radial, cubital, or carpal tunnel, thoracic outlet, and Raynaud’s.
How Cumulative Trauma Disorder May Lead to Addiction
Chronic pain is a common reason why some individuals turn to substance abuse as a potential source of relief. In recent years, opioid painkillers have become a popular means to self-medicate, and are easily obtained illicitly or by prescription. Although they are not recommended for prolonged use, they are nevertheless sometimes prescribed for it. Prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, can also be purchased illegally as products of drug diversion.
And unfortunately, some people may ultimately turn to heroin or illicitly-made fentanyl if they develop a significant tolerance for prescription opioids or can no longer afford or otherwise obtain them. These drugs are incredibly potent, addictive, and dangerous. Heroin and fentanyl addictions are notoriously difficult to overcome and can develop rapidly.
Alcohol is another option that is often abused by those seeking to numb pain and discomfort. When abused in excess, drinkers may indeed experience some amount of pain relief. Unfortunately, alcohol abuse can lead to a physical dependency that, like heroin, can be challenging to surmount.
In combination with opioids or alcohol, it is not uncommon for individuals to also use or abuse muscle relaxers, sleeping pills or sedatives, and nerve pain medication such as gabapentin. The use of multiple substances that depress the CNS (central nervous system) is hazardous, however, and can lead to respiratory arrest and death.
Chronic pain is a problem in which millions of Americans must cope. Many pain conditions are related to work practices and repetitive activities. However, in most cases, addictive substances are not the best solution to the problem. Once dependence on drugs or alcohol has developed, an individual is at risk for far more mental and physical health problems, including additional pain and suffering.
Healthy Treatments for Cumulative Trauma Disorder
If you have a CTD, there are traditional, non-surgical treatments available to relieve pain and discomfort without the use of potentially addictive substances. For example, anti-inflammatory medications are often used in conjunction with physical or occupational therapy, ice packs, or electrical stimulation (e.g., TENS devices). Special exercises may also provide relief, and in some instances, chiropractic services may be helpful.
A person who is experiencing a CTD should assess his or her work and recreational activities to identify the factors contributing to their pain. As noted, tension restricts blood flow and can lead to a lack of oxygen and nutrients to nerves and muscles, and this effect can make CTD symptoms worse. However, taking a break and resting the injured area while at work or during other activities can reduce tension and promote recovery.
Getting Treatment for Addiction
Just Believe Recovery offers an integrated, customized approach to addiction designed to address all aspects of a person’s emotional and physical health and well-being. For those with CTD or other physical problems, professional treatment can be vital to prevent relapse and ensure safety and comfort throughout the recovery process.
Our compassionate medical and mental health providers are highly-skilled and administer services to our patients with care and expertise. We believe that every person, regardless of their past, is entitled to receive the very best treatment available. Our programs feature evidence-based therapies and activities, including psychotherapy, counseling, and group support, which are clinically-proven to help individuals achieve abstinence and sustain long-lasting sobriety.
If you or someone you love is suffering from chronic pain and an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please contact us as soon as possible and find out how we can help!