While you may think overuse injuries are more of a concern for the elite athlete who’s putting in hours of training to reach their maximal potential, the average person is actually at the highest risk for experiencing an overuse injury. The reason for this comes down to preparation but also technique and form during exercise.
Overuse injuries occur when a motion is enacted repeatedly, putting too much stress on a specific part of your body. These microtraumas can greatly impact your joints, muscles and sometimes even bones. While often associated with athletics and sports, overuse injuries can also occur on the job or while doing a hobby that requires constant repetition of a particular motion.
Overuse injuries differ from other injuries in that they develop gradually over time. Injuries that happen in a single moment are classified as acute injuries. With overuse injuries, you may initially notice a slight ache or twitch that develops into a slight discomfort. Before too long, this may develop into a deep, severe pain that could sideline you from an activity for a while.
In order for the body to become stronger and more resilient, it must be exposed to stress. Most people think of stress in a negative context, but there are positive stressors that can be introduced to the body to allow it to grow. In terms of strength gains, the internal process that occurs is called the remodeling process, which involves both the breakdown and buildup of tissue. There is a fine balance between the two, and if a breakdown occurs more rapidly than the buildup, an overuse injury occurs.
Training errors are the most common cause of overuse injuries. These errors involve too quickly an acceleration of the intensity, duration and/or frequency of the activity. Overuse injuries can also happen in people who are returning to a sport or activity after an injury; when they try to make up for the lost time, they push themselves to achieve the level of participation they were at before the injury, which can actually cause an overuse injury. Proper form and technique are critical in avoiding overuse injuries, as even just slight changes in form may be the cause. It may be helpful to employ a coach to help catch any improper form or technique early on to prevent an injury.
Other factors include equipment, such as the terrain or training shoe as well as hard versus soft surfaces in training.
You can experience a variety of overuse injuries, but some are more common than others. Here are five body parts that typically experience overuse injuries.
The feet and ankles bear your body’s weight while absorbing impact with every step. Ankle sprains and strains are common, as is Achilles tendinitis. It’s also common to accumulate microtears in the plantar fascia.
Runners often experience Achilles tendinitis. It usually occurs due to improper training. For instance, if you increase your mileage or initially go faster than your fitness level will allow, you could develop an injury. Having proper footwear and slowly building your training volume and intensity will help prevent these injuries. It’s also important to maintain the proper balance of mobility, stability and strength in your legs and core.
Your knees are the stabilizers between your ankles and hips. As large and complex hinge joints, knees do much more than flex and extend. They withstand a lot of impacts and can be prone to tears, fractures, dislocations and more because if there is weakness and immobility in your hips and ankles, then your knees have to compensate and receive more impact than they’re designed to take; this can incur injuries. Common injuries here include ITB syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome, jumper’s knee, meniscus/ACL tears, shin splints, etc.
Arm and elbow injuries are common in both sports and work situations. Baseball, golf and tennis each have frequent overuse injuries of the elbow. Carpal tunnel is most common in the workplace. With the increase in the use of our hands for texting and utilizing our phones, we are seeing more “cell phone elbow,” “selfie elbow” and “swiper’s thumb.”
Another common group of overuse injuries is spinal-related, meaning, in the neck and back. With the increase in virtual work and the use of screens and improper, non-ergonomic workplace setups, we are noticing more people with “tech neck” and lower back pain.
Shoulder injuries are common in tennis players and weightlifters. If the powerful pectoralis muscles (chest muscles) are tight and overtrained, an imbalance can occur with the weaker posterior girdle muscles (rotator cuff muscles), and tendons can become entrapped or pinched causing tendonitis and pain.
It’s no fun to be sidelined from doing what you love. Therefore, listen to your body if it’s trying to tell you something. Don’t push through the pain. Have a coach or licensed therapist take a look at your form, technique and gear to ensure it’s correct. Slowly build your volume and intensity. And if you didn’t catch it in time and you’re injured, seek out your local recovery and treatment center to help expedite your healing and get you back out there doing what you love!
About the Author
Jessica Tranchina, PT, DPT, is a co-founder of Generator Athlete Lab and has been an athlete her whole life. As the creator of the Generator Method, Tranchina works to help guide others to better performance and recovery and is passionate about bringing the active community of Austin together from all fitness levels and athletic backgrounds. She is the owner of PRIMO Performance and Rehabilitation, which started in Austin in 2010, where her expertise and unique skill set have been established as one of the best in her field. NASM-CPT, ART Certified Provider, CKTP.