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Diseases & Conditions

Understanding and Treating Overuse Syndrome

Overuse syndrome is another term for repetitive motion disorder. The syndrome affects those who use repeated motions in the course of their daily activities. The following focuses on occupational therapy for people who are affected with hand/upper extremity discomfort as a result of overuse.

How can I recognize early signs of overuse syndrome?

If you rely on your hands to do most of your work, you are more prone to overuse. Initially your arms may feel fatigued (very tired). If this fatigue is not resolved prior to your return to work the next day, or shortly thereafter, microtrauma may occur. Microtrauma is when small soft tissue tearing occurs from overuse. Eventually your muscles and tissues become more traumatized, resulting in pain and loss of use.

What can be done once overuse syndrome is diagnosed?

Conservative treatment is more effective the earlier it is started after the onset of symptoms. Your occupational therapist may place the affected area in a splint. The splint will help to rest the painful area, promote healing, and allow non-affected joints to still function.

Other conservative measures may be recommended, such as:

  • Injection (by physician)
  • Contrast baths (alternate hot and cold bath)/icing
  • Gentle exercise
  • Modification of activities

What if conservative measures do not work and I need surgery?

If surgery is needed, your occupational therapist will assist you on your road to recovery. You will be taught when and how to perform range of motion exercises, edema (swelling) control, and scar management.

When you are ready, you will be given strengthening exercises to improve functional use of the affected area.

How can I prevent overuse symptoms from occurring?

  • Conditioning is the key. Treat yourself like an athlete. Warm up your muscles with stretching exercises before you start your day. Take rest breaks after excessive use to repeat stretching exercises.
  • After a long day at work, don't just stop using your hands. Would you run a marathon and just stop when you got to the finish line? Gradually cool down your over-worked muscles. A runner walks for a few minutes after running. Similar to that, you can repeat your stretching exercises. This helps prevent a sudden rebounding or tightening of your muscles once the prolonged activity has stopped.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/25/2016...#4706