Repetitive injuries are not uncommon in active kids and teens. That's why we take an active approach to providing the most up-to-date diagnostics, treatments and therapies, to ensure that your child has every opportunity for the best possible outcomes, and can get back to the things they love doing.
Repetitive stress injuries (or overuse injuries) are injuries that happen when too much stress is placed on a part of the body. They can cause:
- Inflammation (pain and swelling)
- Muscle strain
- Tissue damage
This stress generally is from repeating the same movements over and over again.
Repetitive stress injuries are common work-related injuries, often affecting people who spend a lot of time using computers and other devices.
While most common in adults, overuse injuries are seen in teens and an increasing number of younger kids because they spend so much time using phones, computers, and other devices. Sports-related repetitive stress injuries also can happen in sports like tennis, swimming, baseball and soccer that involve repetitive motions.
Repeated motions in sports cause many RSIs (or overuse injuries). RSIs are most likely to happen in kids and teens in the area of growth plates. A growth plate is a layer of cartilage near the end of a bone where most of the bone's growth happens. It is weaker and more at risk for injury than the rest of the bone.
When making the same movements repeatedly over time, the body's joints and surrounding tendons and muscles become irritated and inflamed.
Some jobs that involve repetitive tasks — such as scanning items as a supermarket checker or carrying heavy trays as a waiter — can lead to overuse injuries. Sometimes, playing musical instruments can cause problems from overuse of certain hand or arm movements. Any repetitive movement can cause an injury — even text messaging!
Preteen and teens may be at risk for overuse injuries because of the significant physical growth that happens during these years. The growth spurt (the rapid growth period during puberty) can create extra tightness and tension in muscles and tendons, making preteens and teens more prone to injury.
Anyone can get an RSI from sports. But they're more likely to happen if someone:
- Trains too much or doesn't train properly
- Has weakness from an old injury
Common RSIs that happen in young athletes include:
- Stress fractures
- Swimmer's shoulder
- Pitching elbow
- Runner's knee
- Jumper's knee
- Achilles tendonitis
- Sever's disease
- Osgood-Schlatter disease
- Shin splints
Symptoms of overuse injuries include:
- Swelling or redness
- Tingling, numbness, or pain in the affected area
- Stiffness or soreness in the neck or back
- Feelings of weakness or fatigue in the hands, arms, or legs
- Popping or clicking sensation
If you notice any of these warning sign, see your doctor. Even if the symptoms seem to come and go, don't ignore them or they may lead to more serious problems.
Without treatment, repetitive use injuries can become more severe and prevent your child from doing simple everyday tasks and participating in sports, music, and other favorite activities.
Repetitive use injuries that can develop in preteens and teens include:
Inflammation of a bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion for a joint, is known as bursitis (pronounced: bur-SYE-tis). Signs of bursitis include pain and swelling. It is associated with frequent overhead reaching, carrying overloaded backpacks, and overusing certain joints during sports, such as the knee or shoulder.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
In carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling occurs inside a narrow "tunnel" formed by bone and ligament in the wrist. This tunnel surrounds nerves that conduct sensory and motor impulses to and from the hand, causing pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by repeated motion that can happen during activities like typing or playing video games (using joysticks). It's rare in teens and more common in adults, especially those in computer-related jobs.
This condition is characterized by pain and swelling at the point where the bones join at the elbow. Epicondylitis is nicknamed "tennis elbow" because it often happens in tennis players.
This is a common cause of knee pain in teens, especially teen athletes who are undergoing a growth spurt. Frequent use and physical stress (such as running long distances) can cause inflammation at the area where the tendon from the kneecap attaches to the shinbone.
This is a softening or breaking down of kneecap cartilage. Squatting, kneeling, and climbing stairs and hills can aggravate pain around the knee.
This term refers to pain along the shin or front of the lower leg. Shin splints are commonly found in runners and are usually harmless, although they can be quite painful. They can be difficult to tell apart from stress fractures.
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone's surface caused by rhythmic, repetitive overloading. These injuries can happen when a bone comes under repeated stress from running, marching, walking, or jumping, or from stress on the body like when a person changes running surfaces or runs in worn-out sneakers.
In tendonitis, tearing and inflammation happen in the tendons, rope-like bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. Tendonitis is associated with repetitive overstretching of tendons from overuse of some muscles.
To diagnose RSIs, your child's doctor will ask about symptoms and physical activities and do an exam. If needed, an imaging study such as an X-ray, MRI, or bone scan may be done.
Slowing down now can help your child get back to sports as soon as possible. Health care providers usually recommend some or all of the following for an RSI:
- Rest: Your child may need to either cut down or completely stop activities until the RSI heals.
- Change in training: If allowed to train, your child may need to do less intense training, train for shorter times, or train less often.
- Cold: To help with swelling and irritation, apply an ice or a cold pack to the sore area every 1–2 hours, for 15 minutes at a time. (Put a thin towel over the skin to protect it from the cold.)
- Medicine: Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, or store brand) can help with pain and swelling. Follow the directions that come with the medicine for how much to give and how often.
- Physical therapy: Helps keep muscles and joints strong and flexible.
- Elastic bandage or splint: Wearing one of these can support the sore area and help ease swelling.
Sports are a great way for kids to learn new skills, work with peers and coaches, challenge themselves, and stay in shape. Parents play an important role in helping kids avoid injuries. To help your child prevent repetitive stress injuries:
- Limit the number of teams your child plays on per season.
- Encourage your child to play different sports throughout the year.
- Make sure that your child's coaches encourage safe training.