How to Spot an Overuse Injury

You might notice soreness or discomfort at first in your neck, arms, wrist, fingers or shoulders. Then perhaps you develop tingling, or have difficulty doing everyday tasks like opening a jar. These symptoms could indicate Occupational Overuse Syndrome.


Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) is also sometimes called Repetitive Strain Injury or RSI. It is a type of injury common to fingers, hands, wrists and elbows that is caused by repetitive movements or awkward postures.

Repetitive manual tasks such as working on a keyboard, working on an assembly line, or even playing a musical instrument can overwork and inflame vulnerable tendons. Symptoms include pain, weakness, swelling, numbness and restricted mobility of the joint.

We usually associate OOS with repetitive hand movements such as typing, but any part of the body can be affected, including the tendons and muscles of the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, back and neck.

Who is most at risk?

Any job that calls for fast and repetitive movements, or one where you have to work in fixed or awkward postures for long periods of time can trigger OOS. People who work with their hands are most at risk, with occupations most affected including:

  • Office workers – including anyone who uses a keyboard and those doing clerical duties
  • Process workers – working on an assembly line and packing
  • Piece workers – such as people working in the clothing industry
  • Manual workers – such as bricklayers and carpenters

Performing repetitive manual tasks will put stress on your body. But so too will poor workplace design and poor work practices, such as furniture, tool or equipment that aren’t comfortable for you; benches or workstations that are too high, too low, or too far from your body; machinery that is too fast for user comfort; tight deadlines that mean you don’t take sufficient breaks; and a workspace design that means you have to repeatedly bend, stretch or twist.

Don’t ignore OOS

Your OOS will not go away by itself. Over time the discomfort and pain are likely to get worse without treatment. See your doctor for treatment, advice and a referral to an appropriate specialist. Also tell your manager, as there may be adjustments you can make to your workplace, such as using ergonomically designed furniture and equipment, varying your work tasks, and scheduling work to include frequent breaks.