5 Possible Causes of Occupational Overuse Syndrome

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Though many safety initiatives and regulations exist, the modern workplace often leaves employees at risk for injuries, particularly those stemming from occupational overuse syndrome. Synonymous with repetitive strain injuries, this disorder encompasses a range of painful conditions affecting muscles, tendons, and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. As our work environments become increasingly dominated by sedentary behavior, repetitive tasks, and high stress levels, it is crucial to understand the underlying causes of occupational overuse syndrome and how to prevent it. This article will describe five possible causes of occupational overuse syndrome and ways to combat its development. By understanding the root causes of this condition, individuals and organizations can take action to create a healthier workplace.

What is Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS)?

OOS is typically caused by repetitive movements such as typing, lifting, and rotating. Repeatedly lifting boxes, reaching for a top shelf, and other small movements can build up tension in your body. Over time, that tension will need a release and cause an injury to whichever part of your body has been overused. Common areas of injury include:

  • Back
  • Wrist
  • Hands
  • Knees
  • Elbows
  • Neck

These kinds of injuries result in 70 million physician office visits each year. Luckily, musculoskeletal disorders can be managed and avoided with proper treatment and preventative measures. However, before you can treat the symptoms, you must identify what is causing stress to your body.

Causes of Occupational Overuse Syndrome

There are many possible causes of OOS and musculoskeletal disorders, but we will uncover 5 key contributing factors and how to mitigate their effects on your body.

1. Prolonged Repetitive Movements

Repetitive movements are common in many occupations. Though this may make a job efficient, it can cause certain muscle groups and tendons to become strained and overused, leading to pain and injury. Tasks like constant typing, assembly line work, or other motion-intensive activities can lead to microtrauma in tissues, which can add up, ultimately leading to OOS.

To combat this, look for ways to complete job tasks without performing the same motion repeatedly. For instance, if you work at a packaging station, alternate which hand you use to tape the box shut.

2. Poor Ergonomics and Workspace Design

Ergonomics is the science of efficiency in the work environment and can play a role in the development of OOS. Poor ergonomic design can make the effects of repetitive motion worse, contributing to the development of musculoskeletal disorders. Injuries from poor ergonomics account for over 30% of work-related injuries that result in an emergency room visit. Common ergonomic mistakes include poorly positioned computer monitors, non-adjustable chairs, and inadequate lighting. These seemingly minor details can lead to awkward postures and increase muscle tension and pressure. 

Organizations can conduct ergonomic assessments to evaluate the state of the workplace’s current ergonomics, making adjustments as insights are found. Organizations can implement ergonomic principles like adjustable chairs and desks to personalize employee workspaces and prevent muscle damage.

3. Inadequate Rest and Recovery

An often overlooked factor that contributes to many work-related injuries, including occupational overuse system, is sleep and recovery. Without sufficient breaks, the body is unable to recover and repair itself. Additionally, inadequate sleep outside of working hours can compound the risk of OOS. Sleep allows the body to recuperate and recover from the day. Insufficient rest can make the body vulnerable to injury and illness. 

Take regular breaks throughout the workday and get enough sleep at night to reduce your risk of OOS. Employers can implement policies that prioritize breaks to keep employees safe and injury-free.

4. Lack of Physical Fitness and Conditioning

Research shows that a sustained sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of occupational overuse syndrome due to weakened muscles and a reduced ability to withstand the repetitive stresses encountered in many occupations. Physical fitness reduces the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders and contributes to your overall well-being. 

Strength training, cardio, and other exercises can strengthen your muscles and tissues to withstand the strain of your day-to-day tasks. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Additionally, be sure to move throughout your day by taking short walks around the office or simply standing at your desk.

5. Psychological Factors and Stress

Mental health can also play a role in the development of occupational overuse syndrome. No matter the source, stress can lead to heightened muscle tension, increasing an individual’s susceptibility to injury. Implementing stress management strategies can prevent OOS and encourage a healthier mindset. Employees can use short breaks, mindfulness, and walking to reduce stress throughout the work day. Additionally, employers can implement workplace wellness initiatives to encourage a supportive work environment and offer employees outlets for their stress. 

Occupational overuse syndrome can be prevented by reducing repetitive motion, implementing ergonomic design, and removing physical and emotional stress from employees.

How Can We Help?

Work Health Solutions offers comprehensive healthcare solutions for your medical needs, including injury prevention. Our qualified team treats patients and employers alike and always provides top-quality service. We back our quality service with years of experience working with academics and research.

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Dr. Michael Tenison

A series of notable accomplishments distinguish Dr. Michael Tenison’s career in medical operations and healthcare management:

  • Successfully led medical operations at a national healthcare provider, focusing on optimizing healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.
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Dr. Matt Feeley

Dr. Matt Feeley is a renowned figure in military aviation medicine, with a robust background in occupational and environmental medicine from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

  • Former Naval Flight Surgeon, exemplifying his expertise in aerospace medicine and commitment to military health.
  • Served with distinction at NSA Bahrain and HSM-37, earning the COMPACFLT Flight Surgeon of the Year award for exceptional medical service.
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Dr. Glen Cheng

A physician-attorney with a dedication to healthcare innovation, informatics, and digital health.

  • Currently spearheads employee health protection and promotion within the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System.
  • Trained in residency at Harvard, achieving board certification as a physician; also a licensed patent attorney with experience as FDA regulatory counsel.
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Erin Davis

 Chief Clinical Officer at Work Health Solutions, certified in Adult-Gerontology (AGNP-C) and Athletic Training (ATC).

  • Oversees clinical operations and ensures high clinical standards across the company’s national field staff.
  • Former Manager of Clinic Operations and Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner at Stanford University Occupational Health Center (SUOHC).
  • Specialized in treating occupational injuries and illnesses, and provided medical surveillance and travel medicine consults at Stanford and SLAC National Accelerator Lab.
  • Dedicated to sports and occupational injury treatment and prevention.
  • Assistant Clinical Faculty at UCSF, mentoring students in clinical rotations within the Adult Gerontology and Occupational and Environmental Health Program.
  • Holds leadership roles as Treasurer and President Elect of the California El Camino Real Association of Occupational Health Nurses (CECRAOHN), affiliated with the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN).

Dr. Robert Goldsmith

Expert in benefits design and onsite innovation with specialization in the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Previous role as Executive Director for Employee Health at Novartis Services, Inc., leading health services and clinical support.
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  • Published works on occupational health risks, primary prevention, and exercise-induced asthma.