Summer is the perfect season for enjoying the great outdoors and getting active outside. However, it's important to be careful when participating in sports and other athletic activities so that you don't overdo it and injure yourself. In this blog post, we will discuss what an overuse injury is, common examples of overuse injuries, prevention methods, and what to do if you do experience an overuse injury.
What Is An Overuse Injury?
'Overuse injury' is a term used to describe an injury that develops gradually over an extended period of time from repetitive movements and actions that damage the tissues involved. In other words, rather than being caused by a single, traumatic event (like a fall or collision), overuse injuries are the result of repeated stress on the body over time.
This type of injury is particularly common in sports, as athletes often put their bodies through the same motions hundreds or even thousands of times between training and competition.
However, overuse injuries can also occur in non-athletes who participate in activities that require repetitive motions, such as painting, typing, or even gardening.
What Are Common Overuse Injuries?
Some of the most common overuse injuries are:
- Runner's knee: Known in medical settings as patellofemoral pain, this is one of the most commonly diagnosed overuse injuries across the country. A person with this injury may experience pain in or around the kneecap during activity or after a long period of sitting down with their knees bent.
- Tennis elbow: Despite its name, tennis elbow (or lateral epicondylitis) affects more than just tennis players. This injury is caused by repetitive use of muscles in the forearm, meaning that pain is most often felt radiating out from the elbow and into the forearm and wrist.
- Achilles tendonitis: The Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, is the largest tendon in the body. Though this tendon can typically withstand a lot of running and jumping, when overused, the tendon becomes inflamed and painful.
- Swimmer's shoulder: Also called shoulder impingement, swimmer's shoulder is a condition that typically affects swimmers and other overhead athletes. The condition is most often the result of the repetitive or constant rotation of the shoulder.
- Shin splints: Shin splints refer to pain that occurs along the shinbone, which runs down the front of the lower leg. Shin splints are often caused by repetitive impacts, such as running or jumping on hard surfaces.
- Plantar fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. The condition is common in athletes who run often, as well as those who have to stand for long periods of time, often for work.
How Can I Prevent An Overuse Injury?
Overuse injuries can sideline athletes of all levels, so it's important to be aware of the risks and take steps to prevent them.
Before you start playing, training, or exercising this summer, take time to prepare your body for the task. Specifically, take 5-10 minutes to warm up by doing your planned activity at a slower pace or lower intensity. This will allow your body temperature and heartbeat to raise slowly, reducing the amount of stress put on your heart.
Part of your warm-up should also include stretching the muscles you'll be using during your activity. This will help lengthen your muscles and boost your flexibility, helping you lower your risk of injury while increasing your performance.
Despite being frequently overlooked, cooling down is just as important as warming up. Just as you slowly raised your heartbeat and warmed your muscles, it's necessary to take time to slowly return your body to its normal state. Try slowing down your pace, walking around, and doing even more stretches to cool down and prevent cramping or stiffness.
Another way to avoid overuse injuries is by cross-training. Cross-training helps to reduce the risk of overuse injuries because it allows you to use different muscle groups than you normally do. This way, the muscles you're using most often have time to rest and recover while you're working out other muscle groups. For example, if you're an avid runner, try swimming or biking a few times a week to give your joints and muscles a break.
You may also want to consider going to physical therapy. At David Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Center, our physical therapists can provide guidance on how to properly warm up and cool down before and after activity, as well as how to cross-train to reduce the risk of future injuries.
Perhaps most importantly, listen to your body! If you start to experience pain during or after an activity, trust the information your body is giving you and take a break. Continuing to push through the pain will very likely make the injury worse.
What Should I Do If I Become Injured?
If you do find yourself dealing with an overuse injury, there are steps that you can take to help your body heal. Immediately following injury, use the RICE method:
- Rest: Take some time off from activity and allow your body to recover.
- Ice: Apply ice for 20-30 minutes, several times a day.
- Compression: Use an elastic bandage or compression sleeve to wrap the injured area.
- Elevation: Keep your affected limb elevated as much as possible.
Though the RICE method can help with the initial pain and swelling of an overuse injury, visiting a physical therapist is the best way to fully heal and regain your functionality.
At David Physical Therapy, we're dedicated to helping athletes of all levels avoid and recover from overuse injuries. We'll work with you to create a customized treatment plan that will help you heal quickly, improve your flexibility, strength, and range of motion, as well as prevent you from getting hurt again in the future.
If you're suffering from an overuse injury, don't wait to get help. These injuries can be frustrating, but with the right treatment plan, you can be back on your feet in no time. In fact, the sooner you start physical therapy, the sooner you can return to your favorite activities, pain-free!
The team at David Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Center is ready to help you find relief! If you think you may have an overuse injury or are dealing with any other type of pain, start your journey to recovery by scheduling an appointment with our experts.