Understanding Upper Limb Pain in Women: Common Mistakes

Are you female and experiencing pain in your upper limbs? You’re not alone. Many women encounter discomfort in their arms and hands at various stages of life, often due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs). These disorders, which go by different names like RSI (repetitive strain injuries) and work-related upper limb disorders, stem from prolonged awkward postures, repetitive motions, and heavy tasks. Conditions like trigger finger, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, and more fall under this umbrella.

For ages, unpaid housework didn’t get the recognition it deserved as a contributing factor to these issues. Previous research on WRMSDs primarily targeted ergonomic practices in paid jobs, neglecting the impact of housework. However, recent findings have spotlighted the high prevalence of these disorders in women who engage in housework, especially those aged 50 and above (Yang & Cheung 2016).

Why Women?

As mentioned, research suggests that WRMSDs are more common in women, particularly those aged 50 or older. Several factors contribute to this. First, women tend to shoulder a greater share of housework, which is linked to these disorders (Mandel et al., 2020). Second, as women enter their 50s, muscle loss and tendon degeneration – common aspects of aging and menopause – can exacerbate the issue.

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

Having treated numerous women with upper limb pain, therapists have observed certain mistakes that worsen these pains over time. Let’s delve into a few of these common blunders and learn the right way to handle them.

Mistake 1: Considering Housework as Exercise: While housework might seem like exercise, it’s not always suitable for individuals with musculoskeletal issues. Though it’s cardio-friendly, it lacks the structured approach of professionally guided exercises. Housework can inadvertently worsen problems, as it often involves overloading hands already under stress.

Mistake 2: Exercising Through the Pain: Excessive exercise can intensify WRMSDs. Some women attempt to exercise their painful hands in hopes of alleviating discomfort, but this approach can backfire. For instance, individuals with trigger finger may repetitively open and close their fingers, increasing friction and pain rather than relieving it.

Mistake 3: Overusing the Unaffected Hand: Avoiding the painful hand by relying solely on the unaffected one might seem like a solution, but it often leads to new problems. Continuously using the unaffected hand at the same level of physical work can cause pain in that hand or even lead to improper posture and movements.

The key to managing WRMSDs lies in professional guidance. Here’s how our therapists can help:

1. Respect Pain Safely:

Understand what movements are safe and which to avoid. Hand therapists can provide splints or support to ensure you’re protecting your hands while staying functional.

2. Perform Correct Exercises:

Hand therapists will teach you the right way to do massages, stretches, and exercises. Online exercises can be misleading, worsening conditions if done incorrectly.

Upper limb pain is a common issue for women, but with the right approach, it can be managed effectively. Avoid common mistakes that worsen the condition and seek expert advice for tailored solutions. Remember, you don’t have to wait until the pain becomes unbearable – take proactive steps to safeguard your upper limb health and overall well-being.


Mandel, H., Lazarus, A., & Shaby, M. (2020). Economic exchange or gender identities? Housework division and wives’ economic dependency in different contexts. European Sociological Review, 36(6), 831-851.

Yang, Z., & Cheung, T. W. C. (2016). The inclusion of homemakers as an occupation amongst people with upper limb repetitive stress injuries. Work, 55(1), 181-