The Development of CTDs

Cumulative Trauma Disorders don't occur all at once. That's why they're called "cumulative." CTDs result from continuing small traumas, or shocks, to the soft tissues of the body.

CTDs develop in the following three stages (Chatterjee 1987, cited in Kroemer 1989):

Stage 1 - In the first stage, workers experience aches and tiredness during working hours. The symptoms usually disappear overnight and on days off. Work performance usually stays the same.

Stage 2 - In this stage, the symptoms start early in the work-shift and do not go away overnight. Workers may have difficulty sleeping and work performance declines. This stage usually lasts for months.

Stage 3 - By the time workers get to stage three, the pain persists at rest and even with non-repetitive movements. Sleep becomes more disturbed. Workers can't perform even light duties without pain. They have problems doing other tasks. Stage may last for years.

If treated in the first stage, the problem can be reversed. By the third stage, medical attention is necessary.

A new job or routine often requires the use of new muscles. That alone can cause aches and pains. But this "work hardening" usually lasts only a few days.

If a task isn't new and a worker recognizes the symptoms of stage one, it is crucial that he or she report it immediately. Ergonomic solutions can prevent the problem from reaching stage two.

Too often, workers don't report aches and pains. Some fear being labeled as complainers; some fear being fired. A work climate that discourages workers from reporting possible CTDs can force the symptoms into stage 3 before medical attention is sought.