Overuse injuries are an all too common occurrence. They occur when a bodypart has been overexercised without adequate rest, when an exercise is performed consistently incorrectly or when the frequency and progression of exercise has been too rapid. I am currently nursing an achy shoulder, caused by incorrect posture during weeks of heavy studying. The posture created stress in already fatigued areas, and then, with a couple of vigorous exercise sessions- boom! Pain! I find this so annoying that I wanted to outline what you can do to prevent and help treat overuse injuries.
As mentioned, overuse injuries have many causes. Weight lifters typically suffer from shoulder, elbow or low back chronic injuries. Runners often experience lower extremity knee, foot and ankle pain from running too much, not stretching enough, or running with worn out sneakers or on stressful surfaces like concrete. Overuse injuries occur when normal wear and tear from exercise becomes excessive, and the tissue is damaged, causing swelling and pain. They often start as a nagging pain during or after exercise that does not feel like normal delayed onset muscle soreness. Pain that normally goes away, lingers, and gets worse with each exercise session. Working through these injuries is never advised. Unless you take steps to treat these injuries, they can lead to more serious permanent damage- so don’t ignore them!
If you catch the injury early, within a very short time of first occurrence, you can often help yourself by icing the aggravated bodypart, resting and refraining from the exercise that caused the injury and, with your doctor’s permission, taking approved anti-inflammatories. All of this must be done CONSISTENTLY. Most of these “therapies” need to be done for 10 days to be effective. When you are feeling better, progression back to exercise should be slow and careful. Lift lighter weights, run less distance, give yourself an extra day of rest between sessions. If the injury flairs up immediately again- then you were not ready to get back to exercise. Back off! I have often heard that an injury takes twice as long to repair as the length of time you have had the injury!
To prevent overuse injuries, vary your workouts- crosstrain!- and appropriately cooldown and stretch. Weight lifters should always use perfect form and be especially careful of lifting too heavy for the shoulders. Give yourself rest, especially when you begin to feel fatigued or achy too often. Runners need to change their running shoes much more often than they think. Any signs of wear on the bottom of the shoe means they are too old already! Only wear running shoes to run- crosstrainers or other types of shoes are not suitable for running. If you are a new “runner”, start with a run-walk and progress very slowly. Most overuse injuries occur in runners when they first start running, or when they progress too rapidly.
Lastly, if ice, rest and approved anti-inflammatories don’t work- head to the doctor! Always consult with your physician when the overuse injuries start, and insist on being seen if they do not get better with these at-home therapies. If you need to exercise, and like to exercise, preventing and taking care of injuries should be a mjaor part of your whole game plan!