Arm and hand pain causes: Local overuse for prolonged periods of time

Arm pain, Hand pain, Repetitive strain, Repetitive strain injury (RSI), Understanding pain / Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

This is a series on arm and hand pain causes. If you missed the beginning, go back to the Checklist.

Local overuse for prolonged periods of time is what is known as Repetitive Stress or Repetitive Strain. Muscles that are given more work to do than they have energy or nutrient reserves to accomplish, will become sore, or worse, injured and painful. These conditions concern me greatly. I treat them weekly in my Neuromuscular Therapy center near Boston.

In our computer generation, local overuse of the muscles of the arm and hand is like an epidemic. Work deadlines that require many hours of overtime or working under stress are common in this competitive environment. Social networking that encourages texting is another source. How many people do you know who use their thumbs for hours on end this way. Computer games are a common source of overuse. When people get caught up in a game they can get lost so absorbed that they’re not aware of their bodies. Same for those who get lost in the cloud, spending hours in their heads with their hands on the computer keyboard without regard or care for how their bodies feel. Musicians practicing for hours on end to excel are candidates for injury. There’s even a branch of medicine know as “Performing Arts Medicine” that addresses these issues.

The muscles of the arm and hand are not meant to do heavy work. They aren’t large, like the thighs or the upper arms. Because they don’t have bulk to push through extra work, the existing fibers get overworked. When they get injured, there isn’t any more muscle to take over the load, so injured muscles must continue to work under duress without reserves. Like running out of gas in the tank, the muscles run out of fuel, or like running out of oil in the engine, they get “hot” and seize up.

To prevent injury, muscles need frequent breaks to recruit “food” molecules, change in the way they are used to get a little rest and cool down, stretching to reduce tension and open space for nourishing and lubricating fluids to flow, cardio exercise to increase general blood flow and get the “feel-good” chemicals pumping. All of these measures give muscles enough energy, nutrients and oxygen to do the work you give them, and time and space to clear away the waste products they produce that can damage the tissue and cause pain.

2 Replies to “Arm and hand pain causes: Local overuse for prolonged periods of time”

  1. Christina,
    Thank you for the articles you have in your blog. Just a week ago I have notice a pain that goes from my right hand to my elbow to the back side of my arm and around back to my shoulder and up to my head. I saw a commercial on Hands and realized I have Dupuytren’s in both hands. I drive an 18 wheel truck and travel 400-500 miles per day. I thought the arm and shoulder pain was from the Dupuytren’s but realize it must be RSD. Can you direct me to your blog that specifically tells me how to treat the RSD. I am going to try you at home treatment for the Dupuytren’s right away but need releaf in my arm and shoulder also. Thank you Bob

    Hi Bob, On the right side of the blog screen are a Search Box and below it, a drop-down menu of subject. In the box below “Search”, type in RSI and under Categories, choose Repetitive Strain or Repetitive Strain Injury for all related articles. Start with this one:

    1. Thank you for your quick response. I will read and try some exercises to re-leave the pain I am feeling. I have no pain in my hands from the Dupuytren’s. From my reading of your blogs I am under the impression that you don’t recommend surgery until it gets painful or debilitating. I will also try to use exercises to help that from getting any worse. Thanks again for the information.

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