Common overuse injuries over 50: Why and where they happen
Although everyone ages differently, most bodies begin to show signs of wear and tear in our 40s and 50s. Whether or not you’ve been active all your life, it’s tough to discover that things you’re used to doing effortlessly may now cause you pain.
Maybe your shoulder or elbow hurts after a satisfying game of golf. A long walk or your regular run might trigger pain in your knee or your Achilles tendon. Perhaps, a strenuous session in the garden makes your backache.
While there is no doubt that age makes us more injury prone, the benefits of staying active far outweigh the risks of getting injured. Furthermore, most sports and activity-related injuries can be minimised by sensible preparation, sound technique and a schedule that adjusts in response to age-related change.
Our physiotherapists will work with you on staying fit and flexible and strong.
We’ll help you to keep doing the sport or other activities you love to do. If you have an issue, including any of the five common aged related overuse injuries discussed below, we’ll support your recovery.
How age increases our injury risk
As we age our bones, muscles and connective tissues become less dense and less flexible. These changes make us more susceptible to injury and slower to heal. Key changes include:
Loss of bone and muscle mass
From around 40 onwards we start to lose bone faster than we can rebuild it. Reduced bone density can increase the risk of fractures including stress fractures common in runners.
Age-related muscle loss happens naturally. The less active we are, the more rapidly we lose muscle mass. Gradually conditioning and strengthening your muscles with a tailored exercise program may help offset the risks associated with age-related losses in size and strength.
Loss of ligament and tendon flexibility
Ligaments connect our bones and joints. Tendons connect muscles to bones. As we age, they become stiffer and more brittle and vulnerable to damage if we push ourselves too hard. Less elastic ligaments may take longer to heal. The risk of torn knee and shoulder ligaments increases with age. Drier stiffer tendons are more susceptible to ruptures if overstretched.
Loss of cartilage
Cartilage cushions our bones and joints. As we age it becomes drier and more subject to wear and tear. As we move our drier cartilage can break down until bone grinds against bone, causing inflammation and osteoarthritis.
There is no fixed age at which our bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments begin to deteriorate. Lifestyle, weight, diet, level of activity and genes all influence how our bodies age. Some people show signs of the degeneration described above as early as their 20s or 30s. Conversely, some fit, genetically endowed people in their 70s and 80s stay active and injury free. If you worked or played hard as a young person, your cartilage wear and tear may be greater than average when you reach your 50s.
5 common overuse injuries over 50
Knee injuries – anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and meniscus tears
Sport-related ACL tears are most often linked to pivoting or twisting movements, awkward landings or direct impacts like collisions. Gaining weight can also add stress to your knee joints. Biomechanical issues, hormonal changes, and some medications can make older women more susceptible to ACL injuries.
Meniscus (cartilage) tears can be sport-related. However, they also happen when doing everyday activities like climbing stairs, walking on uneven surfaces or getting up from a chair.
Pain, stiffness, swelling and a ‘locking or ‘giving way’ sensation are common symptoms of a torn meniscus.
Shoulder injuries – rotator cuff injuries and bursitis
Your rotator cuff allows you to lift and rotate your arm. Rotator cuff injuries are a common consequence of age-related age wear and tear in our shoulder joint. Repeated overhead activities involving throwing and swinging actions, like hammering and painting, can cause this injury. A sore shoulder or restricted shoulder mobility are potential signs of rotator cuff overuse.
Bursitis can be caused by chest muscle imbalance. Common activities as we age like sitting, driving, and typing tend to strengthen our pectoral muscles at the expense of the rotator cuff. Overly strong pectorals pull our shoulders forward and this can lead to painful inflammation and tearing.
Age-related stiffness in the Achilles tendon makes it vulnerable to inflammation and tears. Heel pain, severe enough to cause a limp can indicate this very common injury, often but not exclusively experienced by walkers and runners.
Elbow injuries – tennis or golfer’s elbow
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) are common repetitive strain injuries over 50. As their names suggest, both are often sport-related. However, they can also be caused by a variety of other intensive activities such as using a computer mouse, knitting, gardening, DIY renovating or playing a musical instrument. Wrist weakness, a painful grip, and burning or general soreness around the elbow are all signs of these forms of tendonitis.
These hairline fractures are generally due to repeated impact coupled with reduced bone density. The shins and the feet are common sites for stress fractures which can also occur in the hip joints and lower back. Although tiny, a stress fracture will almost certainly be painful.
Physiotherapy for overuse injury prevention and recovery
Aging accelerates changes in our musculoskeletal system that can cause weakness, misalignment and muscle imbalance. Physiotherapists are trained to diagnose and treat these issues.
If you are over 50 with an overuse injury, your Southport Central Sports Physiotherapists Kelvin Choi or Kevin Kang can help identify biomechanical and technical causes. In addition to addressing the overall issue of overuse, they will also work with you to review and adapt your exercise and other activities to accommodate age-related changes.
We will tailor your rehabilitation program of physical therapy and exercises to do the following things:
- Address injury pain
- Overcome restricted mobility
- Increase strength and flexibility
- Correct poor technique
Keen to stay fit and less prone to injury in your 50’s?
Southport Central Tower 2
Shop 2002, 5 Lawson Street,
Southport QLD 4215