What Are Repetitive Stress Injuries?

Repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) happen when movements are repeated over and over, causing damage to a bone, tendon, or joint. 

What Causes Repetitive Stress Injuries in Sports?

Repeated motions in sports cause many RSIs (or overuse injuries). RSIs are most likely to happen 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.

Who Gets Repetitive Stress Injuries?

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:

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Repetitive Stress Injuries?

Signs and symptoms of RSIs include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • redness
  • stiffness 
  • weakness

How Are Repetitive Stress Injuries Diagnosed?

To diagnose RSIs, health care providers 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.

How Are Repetitive Stress Injuries Treated?

Slowing down now can help you get back to sports as soon as possible. Health care providers usually recommend some or all of the following for an RSI:

  • Rest: You may need to either cut down or completely stop activities until the RSI heals.
  • Change in training: If allowed to train, you 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 take and how often.
  • Physical therapy: PT 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.

Looking Ahead

Sports are a great way to learn new skills, work with peers and coaches, challenge yourself, and stay in shape. But it's important to enjoy them safely. To help you avoid repetitive stress injuries:

  • Limit the number of teams you play on per season.
  • Play different sports throughout the year.
  • Make sure that your coaches encourage safe training.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.