Safety & Health

Hand Tools


Using a hand tool that requires you to use a forceful grip, hold your hand or wrist in an awkward position, and/or results in excessive hand vibration can lead to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). These may involve injuries to muscles, tendons and/or nerves in your hands and wrists.  Such injuries usually develop over time.

Early symptoms may include achy, tired hands and wrists that feel better after rest. It is easy to just write these off to a hard day’s work – and in some cases that would be correct. If these symptoms persist and become more frequent, or cause you to stop working and rest your hand more frequently, you may already be injured.

Types of Injuries

Photo 1 - From, a free resource provided by the Institute for Ergonomics & Human Factors

Tendonitis: Tendons are bundles of fibers that attach to the muscles and bones in your hands and wrists. When they become inflamed because of awkward postures or repetitive motion, tendons may swell, and become red warm, painful and/or weak. This swelling causes some people to have difficulty straightening their fingers, and those with de Quervain's syndrome have pain during thumb movement due to tendon irritation at the thumb.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: If you hold your palm face up, the carpal tunnel is the area of your wrist at the base of your hand where a nerve and tendons pass through from your arm to your hand. Working in awkward wrist postures causes the tendons to swell and squeeze the nerve. Compressing the nerve can lead to pain, tingling, and numbness in your wrist and hand.

Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome: Vibration affects tendons, muscles, joints, and nerves. Workers who use hammers, chisels, or other hand tools that result in vibration may experience numbness in their hands and fingers, a loss of touch and grip, and pain.

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Preventive Measures

You can prevent injuries by using the right tool for the task being performed and choosing hand tools that are the best fit for your hands.

To find the most comfortable position for your hand and wrist, "let your hand relax on your lap, it will naturally fall into a 'position of rest', where all the tendons and muscles are most comfortable and least stressed. Tools and handles should be designed to make sure that we can keep our hands and wrists in comfortable positions. Hands are stronger and less vulnerable to injury when the wrists are kept straight."[1]

Doing exercises to strengthen key muscles before they are injured may help (see Training & More: Handouts for more information).

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[1] Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors; Ergonomics4Schools; The Learning Zone, Hand Tools: