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What Is Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD) and How Does It Affect Employees at Work?

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on January 16, 2019 at 9:43 AM

Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD) is one of the biggest silent dangers lurking in your organization. It’s defined as the excessive wear and tear on muscles, tendons, and nerve tissues due to repetitive motion over an extended period of time.

People who develop CTD often experience pain and injuries, and in some cases may require surgery. Because it gradually develops over time, CTD isn’t always easy to detect or avoid.

Here’s what organizations need to know about this potentially dangerous health hazard and what you can do to prevent it in the workplace.

Types of Cumulative Trauma Disorders

Most Cumulative Trauma Disorders can be broken down into two categories: tendon disorders and nerve disorders.

Tendon Disorders

Tendons are fiber-like tissues that connect muscles to bones. Tears in the tendons can occur as muscles are used, and if not properly healed over time, they can lead to serious issues.

One of the most common types of tendon disorders is Tenosynovitis, which is caused when the protective sheath around the tendon becomes inflamed. It mostly affects joints in the hands, legs, and feet. Joint movement becomes more difficult, and swelling may occur in affected areas.

Ganglionic cysts are another common type of CTD. These cysts form in the wrist from joint fluid collecting in the wrists (typing is a common culprit).

De Quervain’s disease forms around the thumb and can travel up the arm. Like Tenosynovitis, this is usually caused by repetitive wrist or hand motion that causes the tendon’s sheath to become inflamed.

Nerve Disorders

Jobs that subject a worker to pressure, such as frequent tool use, can create nerve damage. One of the most common nerve disorders is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, where the cavities in the wrist collapse and compress the nerves running to the hand. If left untreated, this disorder could result in permanent hand loss.

Another common CTD, Raynaud’s Syndrome, is caused by the prolonged use of vibrating tools. Pale skin and numbness in the fingers are common symptoms, and it could lead to a loss of muscle in the hands.

How Cumulative Trauma Disorder Forms

Cumulative Trauma Disorder develops through repetitive motion. Sitting, bending reaching, stretching, or lifting for several hours every day several days each week creates “micro-traumas” on your body.

Your body needs adequate time to heal and rest from the work it performs. When it is unable to fully recover and repair before it must work again, trauma begins to develop. Over time, these traumas manifest themselves as Cumulative Trauma Disorder.

Many jobs are susceptible to CTD, from working at a desk to standing on your feet in a warehouse. Any motions that are performed excessively put you at risk of developing CTD, regardless of whether or not the motions seem harmless.

Who’s at Risk of Developing CTD?

CTD is rampant in a variety of industries, and not many jobs are safe from its dangers.

It’s believed to affect nearly 3% of the adult population in the U.S. If left unchecked or untreated, the effects of CTD can become permanent.

Some of the most common industries where CTD plays a role are construction, manufacturing, desk jobs, machining, and warehouses. However, anyone who is physically active or experiences unnatural postures for prolonged periods, or remains idle frequently (such as sitting in front of a computer) may be at risk of developing CTD.

How to Prevent CTD in the Workplace

CTDs can largely be prevented with a little awareness and insight. There is no singular way to prevent all possibilities of CTD in the workplace due to the physical demands of specific jobs. However, there are preventative techniques you can apply to mitigate your workers’ exposure to CTD-inducing elements.

For desk jobs, make sure monitors are placed at eye level to avoid overexertion on the neck. Desk spaces and furniture should be conducive to proper posture and employees should be trained on basic ergonomics.

For more physically demanding jobs, take time to train your teams on the dangers of repetitive motion. Encourage frequent breaks to interrupt the repetition of the job. Share some stretches or home remedies they can practice to avoid the ill effects of CTDs.

Further reading: Ergonomics in the Workplace

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Ergonomics

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