Hand overuse syndromes

What is an overuse syndrome?

Overuse syndrome is a blanket term for a variety of conditions that can occur following overuse or repetition of activity that has “overloaded” the hand and/or arm such as using the keyboard or playing a musical instrument. Symptoms can include pain, inflammation, unwanted movement, swelling and muscle cramps.  It may be accompanied by difficulty using and moving the limb and cause distress to the individual, as it also often affects the ability to work.

What can I do about my overuse syndrome?

Specialist assessment and appropriate imaging can assist with diagnosis. Your medical specialist will be able to refer as needed for treatment. Intervention such as corticosteroid injection may be used if there is an inflammatory component.

Referral to a specialist hand therapist may be made.  Hand therapists use a multipronged approach to treat these kinds of injuries and will be guided by a thorough assessment of the problem, work and leisure needs.

The ergonomics of the working situation is important to assess, and postural advice will be given as appropriate. Hand therapists may fabricate splints to allow inflamed and irritated structures to rest. A variety of manual techniques are used to give relief. Icing and electrotherapy can also assist. Gradual return to previous function is suggested. This is particularly important in the rehabilitation of a musician who wishes to return to a high standard of playing. 

Conditioning and strengthening of the muscles is imperative longer term, both to increase the muscles ability to tolerate use and to prevent pain in the future. The hand therapist will work to tailor a home programme that will provide graded rehabilitation.

Should I have surgery?

Diagnosis of the specifics of your condition by a specialist hand therapist or hand surgeon will guide the decision about surgery as this is only indicated if you have one of a few specific conditions which respond well to surgery.  More often, good therapy is the route to symptom reduction.