Workplace Safety and Preventing Occupational Overuse Syndrome

Occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) is not always caused by apparent culprits such as jobs or activities that require a lot of physical labor or are hazardous themselves. Instead, occupational overuse syndrome targets people who put repeated stress on their hands, fingers, and elbows, which include:

  • Typing on a computer
  • Working at a construction site, on an assembly line or packing
  • Laying bricks or doing carpentry
  • Cutting or styling hair
  • Cleaning or vacuuming

If you’re suffering from OOS or wonder if it might be affecting you, it’s important to diagnose the problem and get treated before it progresses.

Occupational Overuse Syndrome and You: What to Know

 A man loads boxes on a truck and will soon suffer muscle overuse symptoms.

Causes of OOS

OOS is a repetitive strain injury caused by repeated stress on hands and arms that can cause injury to tendons and muscles of the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, back, and neck.

OOS can also be caused by poor posture or ergonomics, which is the science of fitting a workplace to the user’s needs with the goal of increasing efficiency and production while decreasing discomfort (think of an office chair, desk height, or how far you need to reach to perform a task).

Symptoms of OOS include:

  • Pain or warmth
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swelling
  • Numbness
  • Restricted joint movement
  • Loss of ability to move hands or arms

How OOS is diagnosed

At your appointment, your doctor will discuss your medical history and your symptoms, including information about the activities you’re performing that they or you suspect are causing the discomfort.

They may perform tests to help diagnose your condition, determine your arm or hand strength, and discover if there has been any nerve damage, including:

  • Electrical neurophysiological diagnostic tests
  • X-rays to help your doctor rule out other conditions that are associated with this type of pain
  • MRIs for a closer look at your ligaments and tendons.

What happens if OOS is diagnosed

If you are diagnosed with OOS, it’s important to note that this overuse injury won’t go away on its own and can’t be “worked through.”

Though rest can help, the repetitive movement causing the problem is usually associated with your job or activity. You probably won’t be able to stop the motion that is causing the damage. However, you can take measures like these to reduce or eliminate the stress and discomfort:

  • Take frequent breaks from your task or alternate tasks
  • Make changes to your space’s ergonomics with the proper equipment and design, such as:
    • adjusting your chair height and getting one with lumbar support
    • keeping the mouse close to the computer
    • using a regular keyboard/monitor rather than a laptop
    • putting everything in easy reach

Additionally, your doctor may recommend conservative treatments such as stretching exercises, alternating cold or hot packs on the area, or using a splint. You can take over-the-counter medication for the pain, and your doctor may also recommend corticosteroid or anesthetic injections to help reduce pain and inflammation.

How to Prevent OOS

The best way to prevent OOS is to consider making the changes listed above (such as taking breaks or changing your space’s ergonomics) if you suspect that your activities and actions could develop muscle overuse symptoms.

What happens if treatments don’t improve your OOS

If your OOS doesn’t improve after treatments, surgery may be recommended in certain situations such as carpal tunnel syndrome or for loose tendons or ligaments. But in most cases, OOS should improve once changes are introduced into the work environment and the way your tasks are done.

Expert Help in Virginia for Occupational Overuse Syndrome

If you suspect you’re suffering from occupational overuse syndrome, don’t let the damage progress. Come to Town Center Orthopaedics for the treatment and care you need at one of our locations across Virginia in Asheville, Centreville, Fairfax, and Reston. Our orthopedic specialists are experts in all aspects of overuse injuries, overuse syndrome, and their treatments, including carpal tunnel syndrome. And we also handle worker’s compensation injuries.

To schedule your evaluation with a doctor to discuss your occupational overuse injury symptoms, call us at Town Center Orthopaedics anytime at (571) 250-5435 or request an appointment online. We look forward to helping you soon.

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