We use our hands and arms every day; for work, play and all kinds of misc. activities. Though these tasks have to be done, some of the repetitive movements necessary to complete these tasks can also contribute to injuries of the hands and upper extremity, leaving us in pain and discomfort. In this blog, we’ll address some of the most common overuse injuries, examples of activities that lead to them and how they can be prevented.
Common types overuse injuries:
Chances are, you know about or have at least hear of carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when pressure is put on the median nerve, causing numbness, weakness and tingling in the hand and wrist. The condition is often caused by activities with repetitive small movements of the fingers and wrist, often coupled with stiff hand positioning or working with vibrating machinery. These activities include, but are not limited to: frequent video game play, knitting, construction jobs and typing. We already have other blogs on Carpal Tunnel so to learn more, you should check out Tell Signs of Carpal Tunnel, 5 Common Causes of Carpal Tunnel (That Aren’t Typing) or Carpal Tunnel Surgery.
Tendonitis is that the top of most overuse injury lists. Tendons are cords of tissue that link bones and muscles together. When these tendons become inflamed through various activities, it causes pressure, pain and soreness. Tendons exist throughout the entire body, so tendonitis is not limited to the hands and arms. Some of the most common forms of tendonitis include tennis elbow, tendonitis in the knee and rotator cuff tendonitis. Tendonitis is caused by repetitive movements in different parts of the body. For example, knee tendonitis often occurs from activities that involve a lot of jumping or squatting; tennis elbow is caused not only by tennis, but weightlifting, baseball and other activities that involve frequent bending and outstretching of the elbow.
When speaking about tendonitis of the fingers, trigger finger and de quervain’s tenosynovitis come to mind. These are similar overuse injuries of the hand. De quervain’s affects the APL and EPB tendons of the wrist and thumb, while trigger finger affects the flexor tendons of the fingers and thumb, most often the pointer finger. Overuse of the thumb and wrist cause the tendons to swell, limiting movement and causing pain in the area. Trigger finger occurs when part of the flexor tendon becomes inflamed, making your finger unable to straighten and causing it to stay in a bent position. Both of these conditions often come from constant grasping activities, such as using small hand tools and knitting.
We all push ourselves a little too far from time to time during a workout, activity or even a simple reach, but often that’s when accidents happen. Strains occur when muscles or tendons are stretched too far past their normal range. This is probably a feeling you’ve had before while working out or overusing a muscle without rest. Straining or pulling a muscle can be extremely painful and debilitating. But don’t be fooled, a strains and a sprains are not the same thing! Where strains involve muscles, sprains involve ligaments.
Prevention isn’t always possible, but there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of obtaining an overuse injury.
- Proper gear, at work or in sport can help reduce vibrations or improve hand technique, leading to fewer injuries.
- Technique. Knowing what you’re doing and doing it properly is key to avoiding injury during an activity. This includes proper posture, positioning and knowing your limits. Stretching before and after activity can also help reduce injury risk.
- Take it easy! When you start to notice straining, pain, swelling or loss of sensation, stop and take a break. Rest for everyone is different. Depending on the injury, rest could be hours, days or weeks. During activities that require odd hand position, like knitting and typing, take frequent breaks.
- If you think you’ve been injured and rest isn’t helping, do not keep going! It’s best to see a hand or orthopedic specialist before continuing to avoid further injury.