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Overuse injuries have gained considerable notoriety over the past few years, and rightly so. Conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, epicondylitis and tendinitis have become so common in the workplace that they've given birth to the science of ergonomics and workplace safety programs. But the workplace is not the only venue for repetitive and overuse injuries. There has recently been an alarming increase in overuse injuries in children and young adults. The emergence of organized sports and the increasingly competitive nature of the performing arts has had consequences we may not have anticipated.

Athletic challenge

Today's organized sports emphasize competition, specialization and coaching drills that challenge our athletes, often beyond their thresholds. Repetitive tasks, poor posture, lateral and compressive forces and sheer stress impose demands on the body it may not be equipped to withstand over excessive periods of time.

As a result, children and young adults are presenting to their doctors' offices with muscle pain, stiffness, swelling, weakness, numbness, nerve damage and even fractures, both evident and occult.

Some of the specific behaviors accountable for these symptoms include injurious or awkward postures, inappropriate ergonomics and, in many cases, extreme physical contact.

And athletes aren't the only young adults vulnerable to repetitive-use injuries. Instrumental musicians confront overuse challenges, many performing hours on end, enforcing challenges on the fingers, hands, arms and shoulders in ways which often encumber the musculoskeletal system. Symptoms may come on insidiously. The trumpet player in your family may begin to experience sensations in his lips and fingers, or your violinist may begin to complain of weakness in her neck and wrist. Add to this insufficient rest and poor postural mechanics and you have a recipe for injury.

While education on appropriate nutrition has become more widespread, this remains a deficient area of health for many people, particularly our young. Proper nutrition is essential in the developing child, affecting muscle and bone growth, tissue and cellular development, not to mention brain function.

It can be challenging to convince a young athlete or musician that conditioning or rehearsals should be modified, especially when habits have been formed or the lure of reward remains great. Additionally, young athletes may often feel impervious to injury.

While repetitive stress injuries are customarily not life-threatening, left unattended they can result in long-term impairment with consequences that could potentially affect an individual for years.

Available treatments

Of course, treatment is available. Chiropractic management, physical therapy, acupuncture and soft-tissue treatments are conservative options that have proven effective and help to maintain a vibrant nervous system.

Exercise programs and good physical conditioning promote fitness and encourage healthy habits that can last a lifetime. Taking a few minutes to stretch each day can relieve muscular tension, promote circulation and improve range of motion.

The significance of postural influence cannot be overstated. Posture affects everything from movement patterns to organ function and, when compromised, can lead to chronic dysfunction. Watch how your child is sitting when playing the piano, or the way he walks after an arduous football workout. And let's remember to be aware of how we carry our neck and shoulders after long hours on the computer.

Repetitive injuries can affect more than your wrist. Be aware of the challenges being imposed on you or your child. Education and prevention are your greatest allies.

Patricia Holl is part of the staff at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic. She can be reached at 259-5096. Send naturopathic health questions to info@yncnaturally.com.

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