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What Is Occupational Overuse Syndrome?

Typing on a keyboard can be hard on the wrists, possibly aggravating carpal tunnel problems.
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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2014
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Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS), also known as repetitive strain injury (RSI), occurs when workers experience chronic pain and discomfort in the body's soft tissues, usually due to occupations or occupational environments that require repetitive movements or uncomfortable physical positions. OOS can include a number of repetitive strain-related conditions, including carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow, or epicondylitis. The symptoms of OOS can be different in each patient, depending on that person's individual work and daily routines. OOS can damage the nerves, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues in any part of the body. Occupational overuse syndrome injuries and symptoms can be prevented by working under appropriate conditions, and many who develop repetitive strain injuries can recover completely with treatment.

A number of workplace factors can contribute to repetitive strain injuries and OOS. Workers who must execute repetitive movements in order to complete their daily workload are often at the highest risk of occupational overuse syndrome, especially if those repetitive movements must be particularly fast or forceful. Repetitive movements performed at work, such as those required of typists, factory workers, and musicians, often don't allow the worker adequate time to recover from the fatigue they can cause. Fatigued muscles and tendons are more likely to become inflamed and chronically contracted, restricting blood flow to the affected body parts and ultimately compounding the problem.

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Workers who must maintain a particular physical position during long hours at work can also develop occupational overuse syndrome disorders. No matter how natural it may be, any physical position can become uncomfortable. These positions can place undue stress on soft tissues if it is maintained for long periods of time.

Poorly constructed work areas can also increase the risk of OOS. Desks, workbenches, tables and chairs should be the right size to suit the worker's height. Tools should be in good condition and appropriate to the job, and workstations should allow workers to complete their tasks while minimizing awkward physical movements. Inappropriate working conditions are considered one of the biggest risk factors for occupational overuse syndrome.

Repetitive strain injuries can usually be prevented by providing appropriate working conditions, by giving workers regular short breaks to rest affected muscles, and by allowing workers who have been absent for work, even for a brief period, time to re-adjust to the flow of a normal workday. When repetitive strain injuries occur, they are often treated with a combination of rest, the application of hot or cold packs, anti-inflammatory drugs, and painkillers.

Physical therapy can help relieve the symptoms of OOS and restore function to the afflicted body parts. Without treatment, however, repetitive strain injuries can permanently damage muscles, tendons and nerves. Surgery might then be necessary to correct the problem.

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