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Overuse Injuries

An increasing number of boys and girls are playing recreational and organized sports. As a result, there is a rise in the number of overuse injuries seen among children and teens. Most sports and overuse injuries are due to injuries that affect the bone, muscles, ligaments, or tendons.

What are the most common types of overuse injuries?

Type of overuse injury


Possible cause

Jumper's knee (patellar tendonitis)

Tenderness right below the knee or the upper shin area

The patellar tendon in the knee joint is repeatedly pulled on, causing inflammation and pain, especially during jumping activities.

Little Leaguers' elbow or shoulder

Pain in the elbow or shoulder area, especially after activity

Repetitive overhead throwing maneuvers that cause damage and inflammation to the growth plates of the bones in the arm (or as a result of a fracture).

Osteochondritis dissecans

Joint pain and swelling.

A piece of the cartilage in the knee, elbow, or ankle joint that separates from the joint surface. Theories suggest that it may run in families or be caused by a metabolic problem.

Sever's disease

Heel pain with limping, especially after running activities

Repetitive running or jumping activities causes the Achilles tendon to pull on the heel bone.

Shin splints

Pain and tenderness over the shin area

Excessive running, running on hard surfaces (concrete), and improper shoe wear often cause shin splints.

Sinding-Larsen-Johansson disease

Knee pain, especially after jumping activities

This disease is caused by an irritation of the kneecap due to repetitive extension on the patellar tendon in the knee (the tendon pulls away from the bone).


Back pain

This condition is caused by excessive extension of the low back. X-rays show that a part of 1 vertebra in the low back slips forward on the vertebrae below it. It's commonly seen in football linemen, gymnasts, and ice skaters.


Back pain

This condition is caused by excessive flexion and extension of the lower back. It's commonly seen in football linemen, gymnasts, and ice skaters. A stress fracture of 1 of the vertebrae is seen on X-ray.

Overuse injuries can also lead to stress fractures. Stress fractures are weak spots or small cracks in the bone caused by continuous overuse. Stress fractures often occur in the foot after training for basketball, running, and other sports. There often is no swelling, but pain and tenderness often increase during movement.

Treatment of an overuse injury

The goal of treatment is to control the pain, promote healing, prevent complications, and restore normal use of the injured area.

Initial treatment for overuse injuries includes R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).

Talk with your child's doctor if the injured area has a prolonged, visible deformity or if severe pain keeps your child from using their arm, leg, wrist, ankle, foot, or knee.

Other treatment options may include:

  • Medicine

  • Activity restrictions

  • Splint or cast

  • Crutches or wheelchair

  • Physical therapy (to stretch and strengthen the injured muscles, ligaments, and tendons)

  • Surgery. Your child may need surgery if the injury happens again, they have pain that doesn't get better, or a muscle, tendon, or ligament is badly torn.

Long-term outlook for children with overuse injuries

Overuse injuries usually heal quite quickly in children. It's important that the child adhere to the activity restrictions and stretching and strengthening rehabilitation programs to prevent reinjury.

Most sports injuries are from traumatic injury or overuse of muscles or joints. Many sports injuries can be prevented with correct conditioning and training, wearing the right protective gear, and using the right equipment.

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Thomas N Joseph MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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