Some teens are engaging in "self-embedding," an extreme form of self-injury, in which people -- often adolescents -- deliberately hurt themselves or mutilate their bodies without intending suicide. Self-embedders insert objects made of glass, wood, metal or other materials under the skin.
Determining how many teens "self-embed" is difficult, doctors say. As with other forms of self-harm, such as "cutting" or burning, many teens are ashamed of what they're doing and take steps to conceal their behavior, said William Shiels, a pediatric interventional radiologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Between 13 percent and 23 percent of U.S. teens have reported intentional self-injury, according to background information in a study by Shiels and colleagues that was released online Sept. 7 in advance of publication in the October print issue of the journal Radiology.
Shiels' team found that of about 600 patients of all ages who went to the hospital to have foreign bodies removed from under their skin, 11 patients, or about 1.8 percent, had intentionally inserted the objects. They ranged in age from 14 to 18, and nine were girls.
The 11 teens had other psychological disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the study.
"One girl told us it's easier to deal with physical pain than the emotional pain in her life," Shiels said. "The reason they cut and embed is an effort to relieve their internal pain, the pain that's inside."
In all, Shiels and his colleagues removed 68 of 76 self-embedded objects from the arms, necks, feet, ankles and hands of the 11 patients. In one case, an 18-year-old boy had embedded 35 objects, including staples, a comb tooth, a fork tine and nail polish wands.