Overuse injuries (or repetitive stress injuries) are injuries
that happen when too much stress is placed on a part of the body. They can cause:
inflammation (pain and swelling)
This stress generally is from repeating the same movements over and over again.
Overuse 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 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, and
soccer that involve repetitive motions.
What Causes Overuse Injuries?
In teens, overuse injuries most often happen at growth plates
(areas at the ends of bones
where bone cells multiply rapidly, making bones longer as someone grows). Areas most
affected by overuse injuries are the elbows, shoulders, knees, and heels.
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
Teens may be at risk for overuse injuries because of the significant physical growth
that happens in the preteen and teen years. The growth spurt (the rapid growth period
during puberty) can create extra tightness and tension in muscles and tendons, making
teens more prone to injury.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Overuse Injuries?
Symptoms of overuse injuries include:
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 your symptoms
seem to come and go, don't ignore them or they may lead to more serious problems.
Without treatment, overuse injuries can become more severe and prevent you from
doing simple everyday tasks and participating in sports, music, and other favorite
What Kinds of Overuse Injuries Can Teens Get?
Overuse injuries that can develop in 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.
Epicondylitis. This condition is characterized
by pain and swelling at the point where the bones join at the elbow. Epicondylitis
(pronounced: eh-pih-kon-dih-LYE-tis) 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
Patellofemoral syndrome. This is a softening or breaking down
. Squatting, kneeling, and climbing stairs and hills can aggravate pain
around the knee.
Shin splints. 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
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.
Tendonitis. 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.
Can I Prevent Overuse Injuries?
To prevent injuries from computer use, make sure your computer equipment and furniture
fit you properly and that you use correct typing and sitting positions. If your parents
are shopping for new computer furniture, suggest that they buy pieces that can be
adjusted for each family member.
Here are some tips:
Make sure the top of your computer screen is aligned with your forehead.
Sit up straight with your back touching the back of your seat. Chairs that provide
extra support, especially lumbar (lower back) support are helpful. Avoid slouching
over your keyboard or tensing your shoulders, which can place unnecessary stress on
your neck, back, and spine.
Let your legs rest comfortably with your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.
Use a light touch when typing. Place the keyboard close to you so that you don't
have to reach for it.
Fingers and wrists should remain level while typing. Try a wrist rest for extra
support. Your wrists and forearms should be at a 90-degree angle to the upper part
of your arms. Elbows should be placed close to the side of the body to prevent bending
the wrists side to side.
It's easy to lose track of time when you're surfing the Internet or immersed in
a homework assignment. Be sure to take breaks (to stretch or walk around) about every
30–60 minutes — even if you don't feel tired or feel any pain. (If you lose track
of time, use a timer so you know when you're due for a break.)
Try an ergonomic ("ergonomic" means specially designed for comfort)
keyboard that has a curved design, and use a trackball instead of a mouse.
How Can I Feel Better?
The sooner an overuse is diagnosed, the sooner your body can heal, so be sure to
see your doctor if you have symptoms.
Resting the affected area is the key to getting better.
Your doctor may recommend that you take anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen).
Ice packs are sometimes recommended to reduce pain and swelling.
After the swelling and pain have gone away, your doctor may suggest physical
therapy to exercise your muscles and prevent loss of joint movement.
Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to overuse injuries. Be sensible
about the amount of time you spend doing any repeated motions. Overall flexibility
and strength can help to prevent overuse injuries, so exercise regularly and stay
active (remembering warm-ups, cool-downs, and stretching,