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August 2014

Cumulative Trauma Disorders: How Your Work Could Lead to Injuries

by Nick A. Titley, M.S., NPI-Certified Posture Specialist

If your job requires repetitive and stressful activities while you clock long hours, then you need to think about the possibility that you could suffer a work related injury. Have you ever experienced pain and discomfort after a long, hard day at work? What if I told you that your work is slowly harming you? Whether you work in an office, or in manufacturing you could be next person to seek professional help and rehabilitation due to a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD).

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines Cumulative trauma disorders (CTD) as diseases and injuries that affect your musculoskeletal, peripheral nervous and neurovascular systems. CTDs, also known as overuse syndrome, repetitive motion injuries, or work related musculoskeletal disorders, are mainly found in the hands, shoulder, neck, lower back and hips.

CTDs are caused, or aggravated by occupational exposure to ergonomic (work related) hazards. You might be currently feeling the effects of a creeping CTD after weeks, months or even years of repetitive work related stress and strain on your body.

According to the New Jersey Department of Labor (NJ DOL), CTDs can be painful and sometimes crippling. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, tendinitis, lower back disorders, thoracic outlet syndrome (compression of the nerves and blood vessels between first rib, collar bone and muscles) are a few of the problems you could already be experiencing. If your work causes you to perform repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression (your body presses against hard surfaces) or consistently find yourself in awkward, or bad postural alignment, then at any moment you could suffer a disorder if you aren't currently suffering the effects of one already.

The NJ DOL lists symptoms of CTDs as follows: numbness, decreased joint motion, burning, weakness, clumsiness, redness, pain, swelling, aching, tingling and cracking or popping of joints. If you suspect, or are currently suffering from any of these, or from any of the disorders listed in this article then I suggest you speak to a doctor as soon as possible before it worsens.

Sitting in the office is also problematic; the Oklahoma State University EHS Safety training program mentions that sitting for long periods can also lead to CTDs, specifically lower back ailments, forward head posture, carpal tunnel (repeated bending of the wrist from typing) and tendonitis due to repetitive and long hours of typing, or using a mouse.

Janitors, carpenters, machine operators, housekeepers, wait staff, and even musicians are also at risk for CTDs due to the repetitive nature of their work. If your work requires consistent, repetitive motions and you maintain bad postural alignment, then please be advised this could be in your future. Please keep in mind, failing to take breaks and maintaining bad postural alignment, or the same alignment over a long period can contribute to CTDs and could worsen a current problem you’re experiencing.

CTDs can stay with you for your entire life and you may need medication or surgery to manage them. However, there are ways to treat CTDs before they become a bigger problem. The NJ DOL suggests you take breaks, and make adjustments your workspace. You will need to change the way you perform your activities, and pay attention to how long you’re engaging in them. If you work at a desk all day, then you’ll want to take breaks from typing and stretch your hands and wrists every hour. You could also maintain good postural alignment by adjusting your chair and workstation to make it easier on you.

Worried about CTDs yet? The National Posture Institute suggests starting an exercise program with proper supervision and approval from your health providers. Our Certified professionals can help you design resistance training and posture correction programs that will help you manage your postural alignment while you work. These programs will educate you more on proper lifting, walking and work related techniques to ensure that you’re maintain proper alignment, and that your is strong enough to complete their tasks.

Exercise, good nutrition, rest and learning to adapt your habits so that you can maintain good postural alignment will help you avoid CTDs. The price of incurring a CTD is costly; you can expect medical bills, and neurological and muscular rehabilitation causing you to lose work days and time with your family if you don’t start taking this issue seriously.

CTDs are painful and could lead to host of other problems that will cause you to lose work days and time with your loved ones. Please don't wait until it becomes worse to seek medical attention; if you suffer from a CTD, or suspect that your job could be leading you in this direction please speak to a health provider, or find an NPI-Certified professional as soon as possible.


  • "Office Ergonomics." Ergonomics:  Cumulative Trauma Disorders. Oklahoma State University, 1 Jan. 2006. Web. 26 July 2014. Retried from ehs.okstate.edu/modules/ergo/CTD
  • Proctor, Bea, Shiro Tanaka M.D., Vern P. Anderson Ph.D, Katharyn A. Grant Ph.D, Ron Schuler, and Rodger L. Tatken. "Cumulative Trauma Disorders in the Workplace bibliography." National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 1 Sept. 1995. Web. 26 July 2014. Retrieved from cdc.gov/niosh/docs/95-119/pdfs/95-119.pdf
  • McGreevey, James E. , Clifton R. Lacy, M.D., and Albert G. Kroll. "Cumulative Trauma Disorders in office workers." New Jersey State Department of Labor, 1 Feb. 2003. Web. 26 July 2014. Retrieved from state.nj.us/health/peosh/documents/ctdib.pdf


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