What is an Overuse Injury?
Overuse injuries refer to injuries sustained from a repeated action (such as repetitive strain injury) as opposed to acute injuries, which occur in an instant (such as a sprained ankle).
Overuse Injuries Can Occur to the Following Structures:
- Tendons: tendinopathies
- Muscle-tendon structures (e.g. tennis elbow)
- Soft tissue compartments (e.g. compartment syndrome)
- Periosteum cartilage, which is the covering of the bone (e.g. shin splints)
- Bursa (e.g. bursitis)
- Nerve tissue (e.g. neural mechanosensitivity)
- Bone (e.g. stress fractures).
Exercise applies stress to the body. Your body adapts by thickening and strengthening the various tissues involved. Hence, muscles get stronger, firmer and sometimes larger, tendons get stronger and bone density increases.
However, if exercise is applied in such a way that adaptation cannot occur, the excessive overload can cause microscopic injuries, leading to inflammation, which is the body's response to injury.
Signs of Overuse or Inflammation include:
- Swelling (which may be unnoticeable)
- Warmth to the touch
- Impaired function of the part.
All of these signs may be present but not noticeable in the beginning stages. Often the first sign may be stiffness or soreness (especially in the morning) which may disappear with a warm-up. Continued use may cause continued damage and the pain will last through and past warm-up and maybe even worse after an activity is finished.
The Four Stages of an Overuse Injury:
- The discomfort disappears during warm-up.
- The discomfort may disappear during warm-up but reappears at the end of an activity.
- Discomfort that gets worse during the activity
- Pain or discomfort all the time.
Injury identification and treatment in stage 1, allows continuing activity as long as the injury does not worsen.
A stage 2, the activity may continue at a modified pain-free level while being treated. Treatment must continue until completely healed.
If the injury progresses to stage 3, the activity must immediately cease. The supervising physiotherapist will allow a return to action after identifying the cause and you are completely symptom-free. Competitive athletes, depending on the individual circumstances, may return to activity.
If the injury progresses to stage 3, the activity must immediately cease. The supervising physiotherapist will allow a return to action after identifying the cause and you are completely symptom-free. Competitive athletes, depending on the individual circumstances, may return to activity with stage 1 symptoms.
What Causes Overuse Injuries?
- Lack of appropriate muscle strength or endurance
- Poor core stability
- Muscle imbalance (strong tight muscles versus weak stretched muscles)
- Malalignment or Biomechanical issues (e.g. flat foot, squinting patellae)
- Training errors
- Faulty technique
- Incorrect equipment.
By far the most common cause of overuse injury is training errors. Moreover, the most common error is "too much, too soon".
How to Prevent an Overuse Injury
We can prevent overuse syndromes. Some of the ways to prevent this injury include:
- Warm-up (including stretching) and warm-down (including stretching) before and after all exercise.
- Use proper equipment (e.g. jogging shoes for jogging, a racquet that is the right size with the proper grip size and strings strung to your level of play).
- Increase at a rate no faster than 10% increase per week (distance, speed, weight, etc).
- Practice and concentrate on correct technique.
- Condition yourself for 2-3 weeks before starting - strength and flexibility.
- Listen to your body - pain is a warning that something is wrong. Early identification and treatment will allow you to continue your activity.
- Identify and correct the cause of pain or discomfort.
- Ensure full injury rehabilitation, e.g. a sore right leg can cause an overuse injury in the left through compensation.
RIVERA FOOT & ANKLE: At Orlando H.Rivera DPM, our priority is to deliver quality care to informed patients in a comfortable and convenient setting. When you have problems with your feet, you need to turn to a podiatrist who listens and responds… an experienced doctor who knows the field and can effectively diagnose and treat your needs… a friendly physician who counsels you on the best ways to maintain and improve your health. Our physician(s) meet all these criteria. Plus, you benefit from a dedicated team of trained professionals who give you the individualized attention you deserve.
Orlando H.Rivera DPM
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