Aches and Pains – Hand Held Tools

Do you work with hand held tools and want to prevent or reduce aches and pains in your upper body? Then this Ergo-Tip information sheet is for you.

Working with hand held tools repetitively or for long periods is demanding on the upper body and could result in a Musculoskeletal Injury (MSI). The purpose of the Ergo-Tips is to help you perform your job more efficiently by reducing or eliminating injury and pain.

Ergonomic issue


Holding a tool for a prolonged time can cause the hand and arm muscles to fatigue at a faster rate and cause you to grip harder.

An undersized or oversized handle for your hand will result in you gripping harder and will cause your muscles to fatigue at a faster rate.

A handle that bends or extends your wrist too much will put your muscles in a weaker position.

A worn out or smooth grip will result in you gripping harder.

Working in a hot (sweat) or cold (less blood flow, decreasedsensation) environment will result in you gripping harder.

Using the trigger to repetitively operate a tool will quickly fatigue and strain the muscles in the trigger finger.

Consider the following:

  • If it can be done safely, alternate hands.
  • Use a power tool to reduce the amount of time and force required. It may also reduce the amount of twisting in the wrist and arm.
  • Organize your work so that tools that are physically demanding are used periodically throughout the day.
  • Use a tool that has a handle optimal for your hand size and that keeps your hand in a neutral position. These tools usually feel the most comfortable in your hand.
  • Maintain tools in good condition. This includes re-gripping the handle so it does not slip and is comfortable.
  • Wear slip resistant gloves, use slip resistant coating on your hand, or use a tool with a slip resistant handle if you find the tool slipping (sweating hands, wet conditions).
  • Choose a tool with a trigger that is large enough to use at least two fingers.


The heavier the tool, the harder you have to grip to hold the tool which will increase the strain on the shoulder and arm.

Consider the following:

  • Choose lighter tools or tools that are optimally weighted/well balanced (try to avoid tools that are front heavy).
  • Frequently used heavy tools at a work station can be suspended to help support and counterbalance the weight.
  • Break up prolonged use of a heavier tool by intermittently performing other tasks or taking a break.
  • When operating a tool, try to keep it close to your body and at a height between your shoulder and waist.
  • Choose tools that allow for two hands to operate or, if possible, use the free hand to help support the weight.

Contact Stress

Any part of the tool that digs in to any part of your hand such as a short handle into your palm, or a trigger into your finger, can compress blood vessels, nerves and soft tissue. Over time this can lead to a MSI. Tools that require impact, such as a hammer, will also increase the contact stress in your hand.

Consider the following:

  • Use a power tool to complete the task more efficiently.
  • Use tools that properly fit your hand.
  • Use tools with larger triggers so more than one finger can be used.
  • Use a tool such as a rubber mallet instead of a hammer or your hand (i.e. when putting hubcaps back onto a tire) to reduce the impact stress.


Vibration causes the muscles to contract repetitively at a fast rate and increases the strain on the musculoskeletal system. Prolonged exposure to vibration may lead to long term or permanent injury.

Power tools such as drills will transmit various amounts of vibration through your hand, arm and shoulder.

Tools such as a hammer will create vibration after impact that will travel through your hand and arm.

Consider the following:

  • Use tools with anti-vibration mechanisms.
  • Use vibration resistant gloves.
  • Give your hand and arms a break from the vibration by intermittently performing other tasks or taking a break.
  • Avoid locking your elbow in a straight/extended position and keep the tool close to your body.
  • Properly maintain your tools as proper lubrication, calibration and replacing worn grip handles will help minimize vibration.
  • Take a break from the vibration by performing other tasks or taking a break.


Reaching too far with a tool will cause increased stress on your wrist, elbow and shoulder, and will cause your muscles to fatigue faster.

Reaching overhead will cause the muscles in your arms to fatigue faster.

Consider the following:

  • Adjust the person or work area so that reaching too far forward or overhead is eliminated or reduced.
  • Avoid awkward reaching positions by using the right tools for the task. Tilting or repositioning the object may also help.
  • When operating a tool try to keep it close to your body and at a height between your shoulder and waist.

Pay attention to signs and symptoms

Pay attention to signs and symptoms as they can be a warning of a potential injury. Make adjustments to compensate for the signs and symptoms you feel. Common signs and symptoms may include:

  • Persistent ache or soreness in your hand, arm, neck or upper back muscles. The ache or soreness is commonly caused by highly fatigued muscles from sustained postures or repetitive movements.
    • Note that your muscles may initially feel achy or sore when performing a task you have never performed or have not performed for a long time. In most cases, this is normal as it takes time for your muscles to adjust and to be accustomed to the task.
  • Localized swelling and feeling warm or hot at joint area.
  • Numbness/tingling.
  • Sudden sharp pain while performing a movement.
  • Feeling of weakness when gripping/grasping a tool.

Employers under Federal Jurisdiction have an obligation to assess the hazards in the work place. Contact the Labour Program at 1-800-641-4049 if you have any questions on the Canada Labour Code Part II ergonomic requirements or to request a copy of the Labour Program’s ergonomic publications.

For more information, access our health and safety publications and try the Preventing Musculoskeletal Injury (MSI) E-tool.

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