Repetitive Motion Injury

Repetitive motion injuries, also called repetitive stress injuries, are temporary or permanent injuries to muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons caused by doing the same motion over and over again. These injuries usually develop over time, and can cause pain, tingling, numbness and weakness.

Repetitive motion injuries are among the most common injuries among athletes. In fact, repetitive motion injuries are estimated to account for over 50% of all sports injuries.

Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Repetitive Motion Injuries

Cooper University Health Care has a team of seven board-certified and fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists with extensive experience in diagnosing and treating repetitive motion injuries. You can count on us for:

  • Fast access: Our policy is to see patients within 24 to 48 hours of a sports injury, whenever possible
  • Comprehensive diagnostic resources: Your doctor will take a thorough health history, perform a physical exam, and order state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging, when necessary
    • Cooper is well known for its expertise in musculoskeletal ultrasound, a quick, painless and radiation-free way to image soft tissues such as tendons, ligaments and muscles  
  • Personalized treatment: Treatment is personalized based on your age, general health and severity of symptoms, and may include:
    • RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
    • Physical rehabilitation and strengthening exercises
    • Braces or splints to immobile the injured area
    • Image-guided injections of anti-inflammatory (steroid) medications
    • Surgery
  • A multidisciplinary team approach to care: Repetitive motion injuries often require the expertise of various specialists, including orthopedists and orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine experts, physiatrists and physical therapists. As an academic health system, Cooper has physicians in more than 75 specialties, as well as a respected physical therapy team, giving you convenient access to all the expertise you need, all in one place.

Types of Repetitive Motion Injuries

Most sports-related repetitive motion injuries are forms of:

  • Tendinitis: Inflammation of the tendons, the tissue that connects muscle to bone
  • Bursitis: Inflammation of the fluid-filled pads (bursae) that act as cushions at the joints

Some of these overuse conditions include:

  • Intersection syndrome: A painful inflammation of certain muscles in the forearm, caused by repeated flexion and extension of the wrist; it often affects weight-lifters, rowers, racket sport players, horseback riders and skiers
  • Rotator cuff syndrome: Damage to any of the tendons that hold the shoulder joint in place; it is common in swimmers (causing what’s called swimmer’s shoulder) due to the repetitive overhead motion of the swimming stroke
  • Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis): This affects tendons on the inside of the lower arm, near the elbow
  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis): This form of tendinitis affects tendons on the outer part of the elbow
  • Jumper’s knee (patellar tendinitis): Affects the tissue that connects the kneecap and thigh muscles to the shin bone; athletes who play sports that involve a lot of jumping, like basketball and volleyball, are at higher risk
  • Little League elbow: A common injury in adolescent baseball players; the repetitive motion of throwing leads to chronic inflammation. Adults can experience a similar condition, called ulnar collateral ligament injury.
  • Runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome): This repetitive-motion injury is common in runners and anyone who does a lot of walking, biking or knee-bending.
  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis: This condition affects the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist; it’s often associated with golf or racket sports
  • Achilles tendinitis: The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone; injuries to this tendon are common in athletes who play tennis, basketball, soccer and other sports involving running, jumping and pivoting action
  • Tendinitis of the wrist: This overuse disorder causes swelling of the tissues (tendons) connecting muscle to bone in the wrist; it’s most common in athletes who play tennis, basketball, football and baseball
  • Shin splints: Pain caused by overuse of muscles, tendons and bone tissue along the shinbone, the large bone in the front of the lower leg
  • Stress fracture: A fracture of a bone caused by repeated (rather than sudden) mechanical stress

Left untreated, repetitive motion sports injuries can cause permanent disability, which is why it’s important to see a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment as soon as symptoms appear.

Repetitive Motion Injuries Causes and Risk Factors

Repetitive motion injuries are caused by overuse of a particular muscle or group of muscles. As a result of this overuse, microscopic tears develop in the tissue. When the body can’t repair these tears as fast as they’re being made, inflammation occurs, causing pain and other symptoms.

You are most at risk of experiencing a sports-related repetitive motion injury if you participate in certain athletic activities that involve repeated movements using the same set of muscles. These activities include:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Tennis and other racket sports
  • Golf
  • Swimming
  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Soccer

Other potential risk factors include:

  • Improper or poorly fitting equipment: Running shoes that don’t provide adequate support can lead to shin splints, for example, or an improperly fitted racket can contribute to tennis elbow
  • Age: The growth spurt during puberty can create extra tightness and tension in muscles and tendons, making adolescents and teens more prone to certain injuries, while older athletes are also at higher risk due to cumulative stress on certain muscles, tendons or ligaments
  • Previous injuries: A prior rotator cuff tear or injury to your knee or wrist, for example, can make you more susceptible to a repetitive motion injury

Symptoms of Repetitive Motion Injuries

Repetitive motion injuries have a wide range of possible symptoms, depending on the part of the body that’s affected. These are some of the general symptoms:

  • Pain, tenderness and/or swelling in the affected muscle or joint (the most common symptom)
  • A throbbing or pulsating sensation in the affected area
  • Tingling, especially the hand or arm
  • Numbness/loss of sensation
  • Weakness/loss of strength

Preventing Repetitive Motion Injuries

The old saying about prevention being worth a pound of cure certainly applies to repetitive motion injuries. It’s common for athletes to ignore the symptoms of this type of injury and “play through,” which can result in further injury or serious disability.

If you’re involved in a sport that requires repetitive activity, follow these preventive strategies:

  • Allow yourself adequate rest to give your body a chance to heal between games or workouts
  • Massage limbs and joints
  • Perform strengthening exercises
  • Warm up before exertion
  • Stretch as part of your cool-down
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Be attentive to signs of overuse and consult a sports medicine specialist right away if symptoms don’t go away

Make an Appointment With a Cooper Sports Medicine Specialist

To learn more about the sports medicine services available for treating repetitive motion injuries at Cooper or to request an appointment, please call 800.8.COOPER (800.826.6737).