Preventing Common Hand and Wrist Overuse Injuries

Written by Michele Wheat

Common overuse injuries occur when an individual damages tissues around the joints through repetitive motions. Repetitive motion injuries are among the most common injuries in the United States. They make up more than half of all athletic-related injuries seen by doctors and result in huge losses to the workforce. Sufferers of overuse injuries find it difficult to accomplish ordinary tasks, such as throwing a ball, scrubbing the floor, pulling weeds from the garden, and typing on a keyboard without a protective wristband. The most common overuse injuries are tendinitis, bursitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.


Tendinitis is characterized by inflammation or irritation of a tendon, a thick fibrous cord that attaches muscle to bone, and often causes pain and tenderness just outside of a joint. Tendinitis can occur in any of the body's tendons. It generally occurs around the shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, or heels. Doctors may refer to tendinitis under several names, including tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, pitcher's elbow, swimmer's shoulder, and jumper's knee. Sufferers may need to undergo surgical repair if the tendinitis leads to the rupture of a tendon. However, most cases of tendinitis can be successfully treated with rest, physical therapy, and medication.

Tendinitis may manifest as a dull ache, especially when moving an affected limb or joint. It may produce tenderness and mild swelling. The majority of tendinitis cases respond well to self-care measures; however, an individual may need to see their doctor if signs and symptoms persist or interfere with daily activities for more than a few days. The condition usually stems from the repetition of a particular movement over time. Most people develop tendinitis from repetitive motions they do during competitive sports. Some cases also occur because of repetition at work. These repetitive tasks put stress on the tendons, which leads to inflammation.


Bursitis is a painful condition affecting small fluid-filled sacs called bursae. Bursitis occurs when bursae become inflamed. This condition usually affects areas around the shoulder, hip, or elbow. Bursitis can also occur at the knee, heel, or base of the big toe. Sufferers usually develop the condition through repetitive movement of one or more joints around the affected area. Treatment usually involves resting the affected joint and protecting it from further injury. In the majority of cases, bursitis goes away within a few weeks if properly treated.

Sufferers may experience an achy or stiff joint. They may complain that it hurts to move or press on it. The affected area may also look swollen and red. Suffers should consult their doctors if they experience disabling joint pain that lasts for more than two weeks, especially if excessive swelling, redness, or bruising manifests. Some sufferers may experience a sharp shooting pain when they exercise or exert themselves. A fever may also manifest in severe cases. Bursitis stems from repetitive motions or positions that irritate the bursae around the joint. Some common repetitive motions may include throwing a baseball, leaning on the elbows for a long period of time, extensive kneeling, or prolonged sitting. Other causes may include injury or trauma to the affected area through a pre-existing condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or infection.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a hand and arm condition that causes numbness, tingling, and other sensations. A number of factors contribute to this condition, including wrist anatomy, other underlying health problems, and patterns of hand use. The carpal tunnel is located on the palm side of the wrist. This tunnel protects the main nerve along the inside of the hand. It also protects the nine finger tendons. When the carpal tunnel compresses, it produces a variety of discomforting sensations that eventually lead to hand weakness. For most people, proper prevention and treatment can relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. This can also lead to the restoration of hand and wrist function.

Carpal tunnel syndrome typically starts with numbness or tingling in the thumb, index, and middle fingers. Sufferers will continue to experience a mild to severe sensation of numbness or tingling until the hand weakens. At this point, the sufferer may need to undergo a surgical procedure to relieve the compression of the carpal tunnel. In general, anything that irritates, crowds, or compresses the median nerve in the carpal tunnel space will lead to this condition. Carpal tunnel syndrome develops from repetitive motion, such as twisting and turning or typing repetitively on a keyboard.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment for overuse injuries focuses on reducing pain and inflammation caused by repetitive movements. This will enable the sufferer to preserve mobility and prevent disability. The treatments for many soft tissue conditions are nearly identical. A physician will usually recommend that sufferers rest, apply hot and cold compresses, undergo physical therapy, and take any necessary medications to relieve pain. A person with an overuse injury may try self-care before consulting their doctor.

Many doctors will advise their patients to use certain techniques to prevent overuse injuries from occurring. Addressing certain conditions, such as improper positioning, will help prevent injuries. Avoiding activities that require overhead reaching for long periods of time and doing range-of-motion exercises will help prevent shoulder injury. Avoid gripping and clenching objects too tightly to prevent elbow injury. Taking frequent breaks from typing or writing and avoiding repeated hand movements of any kind can help prevent wrist and hand injury. Some forearm and arm stretches can also help relieve discomfort due to repetitive wrist motion. Some people wear a protective wristband to further prevent injury.