Tips for preventing overuse injuries
Running into some issues? You might have an overuse injury.
Is there such a thing as exercising too much, too hard or too often? If you’re starting an exercise regime from scratch, intensifying your current workout, or even taking your game to the next level, be careful and pace yourself. Take it slow and maintain good form. Otherwise, you might incur an overuse injury.
Overuse injuries are common among those who play sports. They’re the result of repetitive micro-trauma to your bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. Overuse injuries typically start out small and usually progress over time, which means they’re tough to diagnose and treat. Common examples of this condition include tennis elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, youth pitching elbow, runner’s knee, jumper’s knee, Achilles tendinitis, bursitis, stress fractures and shin splints.
What causes overuse injuries?
Your body is amazing at adapting to physical stressors such as exercise and intense activity. When you expose your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments to the right amount of stress, they become stronger and respond by working better. However, your body needs time to recover and rebuild tissue following exercise. If your body can’t recuperate, an overuse injury can occur.
Overuse injuries happen most often when you try to do too much, too fast. If you’re looking to make a quick physical transformation, you might end up injuring yourself by pushing yourself before your body is ready or overdoing it on one type of physical activity. You’re also more likely to develop an overuse injury if you have body alignment issues, like knock-knees, bowlegs, unequal leg lengths and foot problems (flat feet, pronation, etc.).
Poor form is another way to give yourself an overuse injury. When you don’t move your body properly during your workout, or when you try to overcompensate for physical weakness, you can hurt yourself. Forgetting to exhale and inhale while doing pushups is one example of improper form. Using momentum during weight training is another.
Recognize the signs
The first step to preventing an overuse injury is learning to recognize its symptoms. Most overuse injuries follow a similar pain progression:
Benevolent pain is a good type of pain that follows a healthy level of exercise. It usually goes away by the next day, or once you’ve warmed up for a workout.
Semi-harmful pain indicates you’re entering the danger zone. This type of pain can be helped, but not alleviated, by a warmup. While it may persist during your workout, it doesn’t significantly affect your performance. Semi-harmful pain is a signal for you to slow down and adjust your level of activity.
Harmful pain doesn’t go away with rest and significantly affects your athletic performance. Rest, then consult your physician for a formal diagnosis and to discuss your treatment options.
Prevention is the best treatment for overuse injuries
Now that you know the symptoms to watch for, here are some other ways you can avoid incurring an overuse injury.
- Get a physical first. Getting back into exercise after a break? Starting a new sport? A physical examination help identify any risk factors you might want to be aware of and can help you choose the best activities for safely getting fit.
- Try using a personal trainer. A fitness consultant can help you adjust your workout routine to meet your present level of conditioning. They can also help you make sure you’re using proper form when exercising.
- Pick the right shoes. Worn-out shoes, or shoes that don’t provide the right amount of support, can contribute to overuse injuries. Use a dedicated pair of shoes for working out, and avoid wearing them when you aren’t actually exercising. Replace your shoes regularly, even if they don’t look or feel like they’ve reached the end of their lifespan. For example, runners should replace their shoes every 300 to 500 miles.
- Take it easy. If you’re a beginner, start slow with a couple of hours of moderate activity a week and only gradually ramp up the intensity over time.
- Warm up and cool down. Stretching for five to 10 minutes both before and after you exercise is critical. Doing so will keep your muscles limber.
When treatment becomes necessary
To treat your overuse injury, just remember: RICE+AR.
- Rest. Don’t quit exercising completely. Just scale back the intensity, duration and frequency of your workout so it only causes benevolent pain and helps you rest.
- Ice. Alleviate aches and pains by using an ice pack on your injury a few times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Make sure to do this within the first couple days of injuring yourself.
- Compression. Use an elastic wrap to apply firm pressure to your injury after you ice it. Remove compression before going to sleep each night.
- Elevation. Keep the injured area supported above the level of your heart when possible.
- Anti-inflammatory medication. Take over-the-counter remedies (aspirin or ibuprofen) as necessary to reduce inflammation.
- Re-condition. Gradually get back into the game by working up to the level of exercise appropriate for your body.
If RICE+AR still isn’t enough to make your symptoms go away, or if you’re concerned that you might have sustained an overuse injury, schedule an evaluation with Onward Orthopedics today by submitting an online form or calling one of our friendly Patient Care Managers at 210.880.3823.