What are Stress Injuries?

By Niki Kelley, PT

Stress Injuries 

What are Stress Fractures?

The quick answer, stress injuries can be defined as injuries caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, and sustained or awkward positions. Many types of injuries can fall into the category of stress injuries. These stress injuries primarily affect soft tissue, which includes nerves, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. You can also develop a stress fracture, a tiny crack in a bone from the repetitive force. You get these stress injuries from repetitive motions and positions throughout the course of your normal workday and daily activities. We will now discuss the causes of these injuries, who are most at risk, the common locations of these injuries, signs and symptoms, as well as treatment options.

Image of a runner experiencing a stress injury

stress fractures


Causes of Stress Injuries

Multiple factors can cause repetitive stress injuries. These may include:

  1. Repetitive uninterrupted activity or motion.
  2. Unnatural motions such as twisting or rotation.
  3. Incorrect posture.
  4. Muscle fatigue.
  5. Overexertion.
  6. Increasing intensity or amount of activity too quickly.
  7. Weakened bone due to osteoporosis.

Who is at Risk?

Occupational Risk: Repetitive injuries usually occur in individuals who perform repetitive tasks, repeated motion patterns, or prolonged posture as part of their job. Jobs such as assembly line workers, meatpackers, musicians, computer workers, desk job workers, carpenter, and manual labor workers such as construction workers are more at risk for these types of injuries. These injuries are due to cumulative trauma rather than a single event.

Stress Fracture and Injury Service

Tibia Fibia Fracture

Non-occupational Risks: Athletes who play sports that require the same movement in similar planes and ranges are more predisposed to developing stress injuries. Tennis, pitching in softball and baseball, golf, and running are common sports associated with these types of injuries. Technology has also increased the rate of stress injuries. Blackberry thumb, iPod finger, and PlayStation thumb are a few examples of this. Increased psychological stress has been shown to worsen repetitive stress injuries.

Common Locations of Stress Fractures:

Repetitive injuries can affect almost any movable part of the human body. These injuries most commonly occur in the upper extremity. Your hands, fingers, thumbs, wrists, elbows, and shoulders are usually most affected. These injuries can also affect your neck, back, hips, knees, feet, and ankles. Stress fractures mainly occur in the lower extremity. The most common locations of stress fractures include; metatarsal bones of the foot, navicular bone in the foot, calcaneus (heel), tibia/fibula (shin), femur(thigh), femoral neck(hip), and areas of the pelvis and lumbar spine.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress Fractures:

The most common sign and symptom of stress injuries is usually pain. One may also experience tingling, numbness, redness in the affected area, visible swelling, loss of flexibility in the area, sensitivity to cold/heat, and loss of strength. Some may have no visible signs of injury but find it hard to perform their usual work tasks or hobbies.

Treatment Options: 

Treatment for repetitive injuries usually includes reducing the motion causing the symptoms until the injury can be assessed and treated appropriately. Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce pain and swelling. Taking medications such as NSAIDs can also help with the pain and swelling of the affected area.

A physical therapist can evaluate your injury and provide you with appropriate stretches, strengthening exercises, and activity modification to help you heal. Workplace ergonomics are essential to help decrease the risk of repetitive injuries. A physical therapist can help ensure your work environment is safe for you and minimize the stress placed on the affected area.

Related Articles: Foot Pain in Athletes and What Are Shin Splints?

To schedule for physical therapy at one of the 12 JOI Rehab Centers, please call 904-858-7045.

By: Niki Kelley, Physical Therapist

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