CAW National Council 4000
Occupational Health and Safety

Overuse Injuries

What Are Overuse Injuries?

Overuse injuries are injuries to our bodies caused by overwork. There is a limit to how much our bodies can do before they begin
the "break down" and suffer injuries. Excessive work rates, rapid repetitive movements and movements requiring prolonged periods
of muscular strain are the main causes of overuse injuries. Overuse injuries generally involve damage to the muscles, tendons,
tendon sheaths and nerves of the hands, arms, shoulders and neck. They can also occur in the feet and legs. They can cause
permanent disability.

What are the Symptoms?

Pain is usually the main symptom of an overuse injury. This pain commonly occurs in the neck, arms, wrist, hands and back and
occasionally in the legs. Many people also suffer from swelling, numbness, tingling and feelings of heaviness and tiredness in the
affected area.



This describes pain and swelling of the tendon sheath (the covering around the tendon), most commonly in wrists and hands.


Pain and swelling of the tendon, most commonly in wrists and hands. Tendinitis and tenosynovitis are terms often used
interchangeably due to the difficulty of distinguishing these conditions in diagnosis.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Pain and tingling or numbness or weakness in fingers and sometimes hands.

Several tendons and an important nerve (the median nerve) pass through the "carpal tunnel" (a tunnel made of fibrous tissue
between the arm and the hands) at the wrist. Pressure on the nerve causes this condition. If the tendons or tendon sheaths
become inflamed and swollen by tenosynovitis they can put pressure on the nerves running through the carpal tunnel.


"Tennis elbow" - pain and tenderness of the muscles and tendons around the two bones that stick out on either side of the elbow.


Pain and tenderness of the shoulder usually but can involve knee or elbow.

Causes of Overuse Injuries

  •    excessive work rates
  •    rapid, repetitious movements
  •    bonus and piece-rate system
  •    awkward working positions
  •    poor workplace, tool and equipment designs
  •    lack of job variation
  •    inadequate rest breaks
  •    speed up
  •    inadequate training
  •    poorly maintained equipment
  •    overbearing supervision
  •    compulsory overtime
  •    monitoring of work rate by machine
  •    vibration
  •    lack of control over work process
  •    return to work from holiday or illness
  •    changes in work process (e.g. introduction of new equipment, increase in work rate)
  •    a knock or blow to vulnerable area (e.g. wrist, elbow, etc.)


  • check the First Aid records to determine whether there is a problem
  • on a monthly health & safety inspection, ask workers, especially those on repetitive motion jobs, if they are experiencing


Prevention is the only way to stop these injuries occurring.

As workers know their workplace best, they should be directly involved in determining prevention strategies. Suggestions should be
made through the Health and Safety Committee.

Preventative Measures Could Include:

  •    ensuring awareness and providing information about the problem
  •    slowing down the rate of work
  •    abolition of the bonus system or piece-work
  •    redesign of the workplace with adjustable equipment
  •    well maintained and well designed equipment and machinery
  •    training (both on commencement on the job and during employment)
  •    no monitoring of work rate by machine or supervisor
  •    adequate staff to cope with workload
  •    rest breaks
  •    no compulsory overtime
  •    job rotation and/or task variation
  •    avoiding forcible movements of the muscle
  •    eliminate or reduce frequent anti-clockwise rotation of objects

What To Do If You Think You Have An Overuse Injury?

  • At the first sign of symptoms report to First Aid and your supervisor.
  • Go to your own doctor. To help in diagnosis you should describe your workplace and work practice in detail.
  • The longer you work with pain, the slower your recovery will be and the greater the risk of permanent disability.
  • File a Workers’ Compensation claim.
  • If you have difficulty in convincing the WCB to accept your claim contact the union office for assistance.
  • Don’t return to work before both you and your doctor feel you are ready. (Don’t let the WCB or your employer pressure you in
    this regard).
  • Upon returning to work, ensure that your work conditions have changed to prevent reoccurrence. Talk to your union Health
    and Safety Committee member if you feel prevention measures are inadequate to prevent reoccurrence.

(Many thanks to the Workers’ Health Centre of New South Wales, Australia for providing much of the information in this Fact Sheet).

Source:  CAW Health, Safety & Environment Department