Playing a musical instrument.
Working on an assembly line.
Cutting, styling, coloring, shampooing hair.
Kneading dough to make bread.
What do these things have in common? They can all lead to a hand or wrist repetitive strain injury. Learn about four common types of these injuries along with how they are diagnosed and treated.
- Trigger finger
Trigger finger occurs when the tendons that flex your finger become inflamed, which can lead to soreness and stiffness of the finger. The finger may stick down when you make a fist and then pop straight when you try to open the hand. The condition can be caused by several activities that require repetitive gripping, such as industrial work or farming. It is more common in people with diabetes.
- Forearm tendonitis
Forearm tendonitis is caused by inflammation in the tendons in the forearm, which can lead to aches and pains. Although it can be caused by an acute injury, such as an auto accident, it is most often a result of repetitive movements and activities, such as weightlifting or playing certain sports, such as golf or tennis. It also commonly occurs due to poor ergonomics with computer work or other desk jobs.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by the compression of a nerve in the wrist, which causes numbness and tingling in the hand. The condition can be caused by activities including playing the violin or other instruments that require prolonged wrist flexion. It may also result from work that requires a forceful grip with vibrations – for example, construction work or driving a truck.
- De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
This condition is a result of inflamed tendons on the thumb side of your wrist. It can be caused by repetitive movements and is frequently seen in new moms from picking up their babies or in occupations such as butchers, who lift with the thumb pointed upwards.
Diagnosing repetitive strain injuries
A key learning for repetitive strain injuries is that it is important to recognize symptoms early and not ignore pain. The earlier these injuries are caught, the easier they are to treat. Diagnosis of a repetitive strain injury usually starts with your doctor taking a detailed history and conducting a physical exam. He or she will look for tenderness, soreness and inflammation, as well as assess your range of motion. In some cases, diagnostic tests may be done, but in most cases, physical examination is enough for an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment depends on the type of repetitive strain injury. However, it usually involves a period of rest, bracing and anti-inflammatory medications followed by working with a hand therapist or occupational therapist to strengthen the affected muscles and stretch inflamed tendons. If these more conservative treatments are not effective, your doctor may recommend steroid injections and – rarely – surgery.
Preventing repetitive strain injuries
One of the most important things you can do to avoid a repetitive strain injury is to pay attention to proper ergonomic positioning. Take the time to make sure your body is in a proper position when doing repetitive motions. The elbows should be gently flexed and wrist in a neutral position when possible. Avoid excessive bending at joints for prolonged periods. It also helps to stretch regularly, take breaks and do strengthening exercises that focus on the tendon groups you use often.
Get treated at NorthShore University HealthSystem
Our hand surgeons, specialists, primary care sports medicine physicians and occupational therapists work together to help you get the care you need for a hand or wrist injury. Make an appointment online with a NorthShore provider or call 855-929-01000 .