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Repetitive strain injury

Overview of strain injuries

Overuse injuries can affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and other joint structures.

An overuse injury happens gradually from repetitive activity. These injuries are usually related to sports, your occupation, or other daily activities. Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is another name for this kind of injury.


Signs and symptoms of an overuse injury may include pain, swelling, and limited range of motion. Symptoms usually worsen with specific activities and improve with rest. Depending on the specific joint, tendon, or bone affected, you may also notice creaking, grinding, clicking, or popping when you move the affected body part.

In children, overuse injuries can potentially affect growth plates and interfere with bone shape and length.


Overuse injuries result from continually using a set of muscles (and, therefore, your tendons, ligaments, and bones) over and over without allowing enough rest time to heal and recover.

RSIs can also be caused by poor form during activities, or holding an awkward position, such as when typing, sitting at a desk, or working on an assembly line. Stress may worsen inflammation, exacerbating RSIs. Cold temperatures may also make these types of injuries more likely.


Any muscle group, joint, or tendon can be affected by an overuse injury, but these types of injuries are most common in the knees, elbows, wrists, shoulders, and neck.

Common types of overuse injuries include:

  • Bursitis, inflammation of a bursa that cushions a joint
  • Epicondylitis, inflammation of the spot where a tendon attaches to the bone
  • Growth plate problems in children, which can impair bone growth in some cases
  • Strains and sprains of muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues
  • Stress fractures, minor cracks in the bone
  • Tendonitis and other tendon problems, including tendon tears
  • Nerve entrapment or a pinched nerve

Risk factors

Certain risk factors make you more likely to develop an overuse injury.

Overuse injuries can happen at any age, but children have a higher risk because their bodies are still growing.

Older adults also are more prone to overuse injuries. With age, tendons typically weaken, and joints can start to degenerate. This makes them more susceptible to irritation from overuse.

  • Inadequate training or a lack of conditioning
  • Poor form while warming up before activities
  • Working a job that requires hard physical labor, or repetitive fine motions such as typing, checking groceries, assembling items, or other activities
  • Warming up with cold muscles
  • Not stretching
  • Training through a minor injury or ignoring pain during activity
  • Overtraining or not taking enough time to rest and recover after activity
  • Not using the right equipment for a sport or activity, or poorly fitting gear
  • Having a previous overuse or orthopedic injury such as a fracture, tendonitis, or bursitis


In some cases, it can be difficult to avoid the repetitive motions that cause overuse strains at our jobs or during favorite activities.

Fortunately, many overuse injuries can be prevented with these types of strategies:

  • Balancing strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility
  • Cross-training with a variety of exercises
  • Scheduling periods of rest and time off from physical activity to allow for healing and recovery
  • Staying hydrated
  • Taking the time to adequately warm up before activities and cool down afterward, even if you’re just doing something around the house
  • Using the right equipment with proper fit
  • Stopping an action when you first start feeling pain or noticing symptoms of an RSI

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.