An overuse injury, is also known as cumulative trauma disorder. It is any damage to muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments as a result of excessive action and repetitive trauma, stress or strain over time.
As opposed to acute injury which is a result of a single impact trauma, an overuse injury can be challenging to diagnose and detect early because of their subtle and gradual effects.
The human body is designed to adapt to physical stress within tolerable limits. In fact, the purpose of physical training is to stress the body systematically to improve its function, strength and adaptability. Like a poorly oiled machine however, our body can break down if we push it beyond its limits and don’t take care of it properly.
“A stitch in time saves nine”, as they say, so knowing the causes of overuse injury
can prevent it from happening.
What are the causes of overuse injuries?
- Training Errors. If you push your body too hard and too soon, it may lead to an overuse injury.
- Improper Technique. Any form of exercise or physical activity performed incorrectly can cause pain and injury in time.
- Underlying medical conditions. It is always best to check with your physician before embarking on a strenuous exercise program.
- Inadequate Physical Fitness such as poor muscle strength; poor physical endurance; unstable core; inflexibility and body malalignments.
- Inadequate Rest and Restoration Time. Give your body time to heal after an intense physical activity.
- Lack of Variety. Exercise must be geared towards building strength and flexibility evenly throughout the body so as not to cause imbalance.
- Improper Sports Gear and Equipment. Non-supportive athletic shoes; uneven training surface; too heavy or too large grip of a racquet and unpadded clothing are some examples of bad sports gear and equipment that can cause overuse injuries.
Ten most common overuse injuries
- Tennis Elbow – an inflammation of the tendons that join the forearm muscles as a result of repeating the same motion over and over again.
- Swimmer’s shoulder – one of the most common injuries that affect swimmers (hence the name) due to extended repetitive strokes.
- Little League Elbow – associated with throwing, this injury affects pitchers, catchers, infielders, and outfielders.
- Runner’s knee – one of the most common running injuries characterised by pain, grinding or the clicking sound of the kneecap.
- Jumper’s Knee – an inflammation of the patellar tendon of athletes who jump as part of their sport.
- Achilles Tendinitis – an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, an overuse injury that affects joggers and jumpers, due to the repetitive action.
- Shin Splints – characterised by general pain along the inner edge of the shinbone or the front of the lower legs.
- Anterior Knee Pain – swelling and soreness of the knee due to tendon or cartilage inflammation
- Plantar Fasciitis – a stabbing pain on the heel that you experience when you take your first steps in the morning.
- Joint Pain and Constant Muscle Soreness – if the soreness persists for more than a week after a strenuous physical activity, chances are, it could possibly be an overuse injury.
Signs and symptoms of overuse injuries
- Soreness, tingling or discomfort that are not caused by a direct
- Visible swelling
- Tenderness and warm to the touch
- Pain during or after a strenuous activity or exercise
- Overall fatigue or weakness
- Impaired function of the affected part
Overuse injury prevention
With good training and discipline, most overuse injuries can be prevented. Here are some tips from our physiotherapists to avoid overuse injuries:
- Vary Your Modality. Avoid repeating the same activity for more than eight months. Your bones and growth plates need a break.
- Warm-up, Cool-down and Stretch. If you make it a habit to practice warm-ups, cool-downs and stretching, you will be able to maintain flexibility and save yourself from possible injuries which include sprains, strains, knee injuries, dislocations, tendinitis and shin splits.
- Use Proper Gear and Equipment. Use the right footwear, the right weight, size and grip size of your equipment, and use padded clothing whenever necessary.
- Don’t Over Accelerate. Increase the intensity, distance, weight and time no more than 10% per week.
- Pay Attention When Your Body Talks. For fewer injuries and greater progress, you have to listen to the signals that your body sends out. If it hurts, stop; if you’re tired, rest. Check it before you wreck it, so to speak.
- Seek professional advice and training. To avoid injuries, get the advice of a sports physiotherapist or athletic trainer before embarking on an exercise program or sports activity.
- Eat Healthy. Get crucial nutrients from food or supplements, especially calcium. If you have to stress your body, you should equip it too.
An ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure. However, if you are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above and suspect that you are suffering from an overuse injury, contact us at the Southport Central Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Clinic.
Mr Chun Man (Kelvin) Choi is one of our Physiotherapists and Accredited Exercise Physiologist with a particular interest in chronic spinal pain and sporting injury prevention, management and rehabilitation.
For active people, overuse injuries can be very frustrating and debilitating. If managed early and properly, better recovery is often possible.