Repetitive Motion

Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Jeffery Suchy, Graduate Student and Lecturer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Due to the nature of their work, farmers and gardeners are often involved in manual labor that requires repetitive motion. Repetitive motion injuries occur when an action is done repeatedly. Examples can include bending, twisting, grasping and reaching. The injuries can also be called cumulative trauma disorder or CTD. Pain or other warning signs may develop gradually over time or may be acute in extreme circumstances. Many areas can be affected but the most common are fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders, back and neck.

If persistent or acute pain is experienced in any area, do not ignore it. These conditions could become more severe over time.

Repetitive Motion That Can Lead to Injuries

A Repetitive Task
Many redundant tasks require the body to use repetitive motion. Repetitive motion tasks can include:
• Repeated movement of the hand, arm or shoulder.
• Bending at the wrist.
• Grasping or pinching objects.
• Applying force with the hand or arm.
Here are some examples of actions involving repetitive motion:
• Pruning.
• Potting plants and seeds.
• Pulling weeds.
• Hoeing.
• Packing plants into boxes.
• Moving rolls of sod.

Possible Symptoms of a Repetitive Motion Injury

A number of symptoms can result from repetitive motion injury, including:
• Waking from sleep due to pain.
• Numbness.
• Tingling.
• Swelling or tenderness.
• Continuous aches.
• Loss of strength.
• Loss of joint movement.
• Decreased coordination.


To eliminate repetitive motion injuries, try to adapt work activities:
• Learn how to use or move equipment so that the same motions are not repeated over and over.
• Avoid overuse of one part of the body to compensate for limitation of another body part.
• Utilize ergonomically designed tools and equipment, or redesign tools to fit the individual or specific task. Replace tools with poorly fitting components.
• Make sure tools and equipment are in good repair and well maintained.
• Perform work in body positions that are “natural” and balanced, and attempt to vary task positions and actions. Avoid awkward body posture.
• Be aware of repetitive motion used on and off the job. Repetitive motion trauma is most likely to occur after applying pressure or doing the same motion over and over.


Repetitive motion can cause injury to nerves, muscles and tendons. To treat potential repetitive motion injuries:
• Apply ice to the area of pain.
• Try using a splint or brace to relieve pressure and muscle use.
• Contact a healthcare professional if pain occurs or is persistent in spite of prevention. Early evaluation and treatment is important. A doctor may prescribe medication to help reduce swelling and pain.
• Schedule regular follow-up visits with your doctor to check your progress. For more serious cases, physical therapy may be prescribed.
• Listen to your doctor’s advice. In most cases, the doctor will suggest avoiding the activity or activities that caused the injury. Time away from the situation, followed by a gradual return to an improved work situation, may be required.
• Exercise to strengthen your muscles.
• Improve your work situation by changing your position so the same motion is not continuously repeated.
• Include short rest breaks in your daily routine.


• Jepsen, S.D., Kent McGuire, and Danielle Poland. Secondary Injury Prevention: Repetitive Motion, AEX-981.12-11. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Extension, 2011.

Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering