Repeating one movement or motion constantly over a long period of time can lead to overuse syndrome in your hands and arms. Though many are able to recover from this condition, it can be very inconvenient, and can prevent you from completing everyday tasks and activities.
Overuse syndrome is another term for a repetitive motion disorder. It mainly affects those who repeat certain motions over and over again during their daily activities. If you’re suffering from overuse syndrome, it will most likely affect your hands and/or arms before any other parts of the body.
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Performing repetitive tasks that involve your hands and arms is the main cause of this disorder. There are certain jobs and activities that can cause overuse syndrome, including:
All of these jobs and activities can put a lot of repeated stress on your hands and arms. When you push these body parts to their limit, it often results in overuse syndrome.
At the beginning, your arms and hands will just feel tired and fatigued, which you may think is normal. Then, you may begin to feel musculoskeletal pain, meaning pain in your muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and nerves. If it continues to get worse, you could be dealing with microtrauma, which occurs when small parts of your soft tissue begin to tear. Eventually, your muscles and tissues will experience more and more trauma, resulting in pain and loss of use.
Other common symptoms include:
There’s no known link between this condition and arthritis, though overuse syndrome can lead to some other ailments, including:
Your doctor will begin by asking you a series of questions about your symptoms, history of symptoms and medical history. After that, they’ll put you through a physical exam to test your arm/hand strength, before determining whether there’s any nerve damage or irritation.
There are three tests or scans that your doctor can use to diagnose this condition:
The easiest way to treat overuse syndrome is to stop the activities or motions that trigger your symptoms. Of course, this isn’t always possible since some of these activities are required for a specific job. If you aren’t able to completely cut out these activities, you should try to limit them as much as you can. The next step would be following conservative treatment recommended by your provider. These include:
The earlier you begin any of these treatments, after you begin feeling symptoms, the more effective they’ll be. You may also be referred to occupational therapy or physical therapy, where you’ll receive specific recommendations on how to relieve your discomfort, and on how to reduce any future recurrence of these symptoms.
If you’re still feeling pain after trying all of those preventative measures, surgery may become an option. You will likely have a physical or occupational therapist who can help you recover after the surgery. They’ll teach you some different range of motion exercises that will help you regain normal functionality in either your hand or arms.
When you’re ready, you can start performing strengthening exercises to further improve how your hand and/or arm functions.
Your doctor will likely tell you to rest any areas where you feel pain more often, while also recommending more conditioning:
If you want to prevent the symptoms of overuse syndrome from coming back, you need to be aware of the early warning signs. This means resting when necessary and taking the proper precautions when you start to feel any sort of discomfort.
Most people who suffer from overuse syndrome in their hands and arms are able to recover and change their lifestyle, to avoid or limit the movements that cause symptoms. Making a small, but significant, lifestyle change, and incorporating helpful stretching exercises, will help relieve pain in your hands and arms and prevent another nagging injury.
But if you don’t seek treatment for this condition, it can lead to permanent injuries, sometimes so severe that you completely lose functionality in the affected area.
You might not think overuse syndrome is a serious condition, but if you let it go unnoticed and untreated for too long, it can cause lasting damage. If you notice yourself repeating certain movements too often in your everyday life, to the point that it’s putting unwanted strain on your body, take the necessary preventative measures before it becomes a bigger problem.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/25/2020.
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