Don't Let Cumulative Trauma Disorder Interrupt Your Body Building Workout
by Janet Ottaiano, PT

Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD) is a broad category that includes many common conditions that affect the soft tissue of the body. Conditions caused or aggravated by cumulative trauma include carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, shoulder impingement and low back pain among others. Cumulative trauma disorder is sometimes referred to as repetitive stress injury (RSI), overuse strain (OS) and occupational overuse syndrome (OOS).

Causes include overuse or micro trauma, muscle imbalance, nerve tension, work postures, faulty posture and poor ergonomic setup. Cumulative trauma disorder often hampers body builders and athletes who have to throw, jump or run repeatedly.

The way people perform their tasks (either work-related, fitness activities or household duties) can put them at risk for CTD. Some risk factors include force, awkward or static postures, poor tool and equipment design, fatigue, repetition, temperature and vibration and the lack of appropriate rest between workouts and workloads. The longer a person is exposed to one or more risks, the greater the possibility of developing CTD. CTD is a response to excessive demands on our bodies resulting in the breakdown of tissue fiber followed by an inflammatory response as the body tries to heal itself.

The symptoms of CTD usually start gradually. Patients usually don't recall a single event that started their symptoms. They may report feelings of muscle tightness and fatigue at first. People commonly report feeling numbness, tingling and vague pain. Others say they feel a sensation of swelling in the affected part of the body. Some patients with arm symptoms sense a loss of strength and may drop items due to pain and weakness. Symptoms often worsen with activity and ease with rest.

CTD usually responds well to conservative, non-invasive management like physical therapy. It's important for your therapist to evaluate your posture, work and recreational habits, strength, flexibility, neuro-muscular recruitment patterns, joint mobility, tissue glide, areas of inflammation and tenderness so that an individualized and personalized treatment plan can be implemented to get you back to pain-free living and workouts.

The best medicine for treating CTD is to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. Use healthy work or workout postures and body alignment. Posture can play a significant role in CTD. Incorrect posture may lead to muscle imbalances or nerve and soft tissue pressure, leading to pain or other symptoms. Many people spend many hours at work using unhealthy posture habits. Just sitting improperly for hours at a time can actually injure you!

Assessing where and how a person does work is called ergonomics. Even subtle changes in the way a work station is designed or how a job is done can lead to pain or injury. Body building is no different. Typically, body builders will breakdown muscle fiber to build bulk. Still, the body needs rest to heal. That doesn't mean body builders have to lay off their workouts, but rather, they should set up a schedule to work some muscle groups while giving others a rest. Additionally, compromising joint space will lead to inflammation. Posture and balanced workouts are key factors in avoiding this type of stress.

Resting the area allows the body to recover and provide a way of repairing these injured tissues along the way, keeping them healthy. Plan ways to change positions during work tasks and rotate jobs. Getting treated right away for symptoms of CTD can shorten the time it takes to heal and prevent people like body builders from stopping or interrupting their workouts.

Janet Ottaiano, PT, CProT is the founder of LIFE Physical Therapy & Wellness Center, located at 2555 Hempstead Turnpike, East Meadow, NY. CALL 516.735.1018 and mention this article in New Living for a FREE CTD or Pain Screening ($125 value - expires 2/29/12). Let's discuss your workout routine and any pitfalls that you may have in your routine. For more information on CTD and other common injuries and conditions, visit our website at