Healthy Lifestyle

Reducing Pain from Repetitive Strain

Under Stress

Have you noticed arm or hand pain during or after your work shift or when participating in hobbies or other activities? You may be experiencing upper extremity repetitive stress. 

Repetitive stress can include various musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis, and can be caused by cumulative damage from highly repetitive movements. Some symptoms in the hands or arms may include: 

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Weakness
  • Throbbing

Being aware of good ergonomic positioning while you work, taking brief rest breaks and some simple exercises may reduce some of these symptoms.

Reducing Symptoms of Repetitive Strain

Use a softer touch. Try not to grip a pen or hand tool tighter than necessary. Use a gentle touch on the keyboard, rather than pounding on the keys. You could consider using built up pens or tools with ergonomic handles to reduce hand stress. 

Give yourself a break. Don’t sit in the same position for long periods of time. Stand up or step away from your work periodically throughout the day to change your hand and arm posture and stretch your hands.

Stretch often. Try adding a few stretches to your day: 

  1. Make a fist, slide fingers up until they point straight up. Repeat 5-10 times
  2. Make a fist, release fingers and fan them out wide. Stretch as far as you can. Repeat 5-10 times
  3. Make a fist and at the same time bend your wrist. As you straighten your fingers tip your wrist back (like a waiter with a tray on the palm). Repeat 5-10 times
  4. Sit with tall posture and squeeze shoulder blades back (military style) Hold for 2-3 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. 
  5. Hold your arm out in front of you at shoulder height with elbow straight and palm up. Bend wrist so fingers point down to floor. Use opposite hand to gently push on palm and add stretch through the wrist and forearm. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 2-5 times. 
  6. Place palms and fingers together in a “praying hands” position, with fingers pointing up toward ceiling and forearms parallel to the floor. Gently glide both hands to the right and left, then back to midline and relax. Repeat 2-5 times.

Symptoms at Night?

If you feel you have symptoms of repetitive stress that are interfering with your day to day activities, or arm or hand discomfort that is disrupting your sleep, you may benefit from working with an occupational therapist and/or certified hand therapist. A therapist may be able to show you exercises to stretch or strengthen your hands and arms or teach you how to change your routines to decrease arm and hand stress. 

If you need help, contact Methodist Physicians Clinic Physical and Occupational Therapy.

About the Author

Beth Cammack, OTR/L, CHT, is an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist, specializing in the treatment of upper extremity injuries.

Beth helps patients find relief from their injuries and pain every day at Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest.

See more articles from Beth Cammack, OTR/L, CHT
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