Overuse Injuries. Avoid Them.

According to the Journal of American Medicine more than one third of adults in the United States (34.9%) are obese. Not just overweight, but obese. 69.2 % of all adults, aged 20 and older, are overweight (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010). Almost seventy percent, SEVENTY, of our population is headed toward a future of diabetes, coronary heart disease, arthritis, hypertension and many other debilitating health conditions. Health conditions mind you, that are completely preventable with proper nutrition and exercise. Now, that being said, let's look at the other half (and when I say half, I'm referring to less than 5% of the population) - those who don't know when enough is enough. Approximately 30% of all student athletes suffer from overuse injuries at some point in their active career.

What is an Overuse Injury? 

Overuse injuries refer to injuries sustained from repeated action and repetitive strain, as opposed to acute injuries, which occur in an instant.

Exercise applies stress to the body. Our bodies are designed in such a way that they adapt to exercise stress 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 lead to inflammation and serious injury.

The Stages of an Overuse Injury:

  1. Discomfort that disappears during warm-up.
  2. Discomfort that may disappear during warm-up but reappears at the end of activity.
  3. Discomfort that gets worse during the activity
  4. Pain or discomfort all the time.

Too often exercises enthusiasts experience one or more of these stages without taking preventative care, thus often resulting in required time off from activity and/or medical care.

What Causes an Overuse Injury?

  • Lack of appropriate muscle strength or endurance
  • Poor core stability
  • Muscle imbalance (strong tight muscles vs weak stretched muscles)
  • Inflexibility
  • Malalignment or Biomechanical issues
  • Training errors
  • Faulty technique
  • Incorrect equipment.

By far the most common cause of overuse injury is training errors, such as, "too much, too soon".

Preventing an Overuse Injury: 

Just as exercising too infrequently can lead to health complications, exercising too frequently and without rest can also lead to health complications. The good news: both are 100% preventable.

  • Warm-up and cool down before and after all exercise.
  • Use proper equipment
  • Increase at a rate no faster than 10% increase per week (distance, speed, weight, etc).
  • Practice and concentrate on correct technique.
  • Condition 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.

Let my mistake be your lesson. At a recent doctors visit my physician asked me, "what else do you do?", to which I replied, "oh a little bit of everything…I've been diligent with track workouts and long runs but I also teach spin and strength train 2-3x a week with a few HIIT workouts thrown in there. But, you'd think that as a personal trainer I would have known better to listen to the warning signs." "No", he said, "I'd never expect that from a runner. Runners never listen."

Don't be a runner. Run, yes. But don't be so obsessed with the performance that you forget and/or neglect what you need to perform. Rest. Our bodies can do amazing things and accomplish miraculous feats, but only if we take care, prevent and protect. Be aware of how you feel, recognise that not every workout needs to be conducted at your highest intensity, schedule rest days and appreciate that time off is a step toward the end goal.

Eat well. Live well. Be well.