Overuse injuries are an athlete's worst nightmare! Often times, people confuse hard training with over-training, something that all too often leads to overuse injuries. They regularly happen when you take on too much physical activity way too quickly. In order to prevent them from happening, you need to learn how to pace yourself during your workouts.
The difference between acute injuries and overuse injuries is that acute injuries happen as a result of a single, traumatic event that happens in an instant (sprained ankle). Overuse injuries are actually more common in sports than acute injuries. They take time to develop and it gets pretty tricky to properly diagnose and treat them. They happen as a result of repetitive micro-trauma to the muscles and joints (repetitive strain injury).
Common Causes for Overuse Injuries
- Lack of muscular strength and endurance
- Poor core stability
- Muscle imbalance
- Training errors
- Technique errors
- Faulty or improper equipment
Most of the times, overuse injuries are caused by training errors and technique errors. The human body has the amazing ability to adapt to physical stress in the form of exercise and activity. When you work out, your body goes through an internal process of remodeling which involves the breakdown and then the buildup of tissue. Overuse injuries happen when a breakdown occurs more rapidly than a buildup.
Training errors are very common causes of overuse injuries. Misuse of rapid acceleration of intensity, duration, and frequency are just some examples of workout mistakes. When you over-train or push yourself to make up for lost time, you expose yourself to injury. Only training and strengthening one part of your body is another common mistake among lifting athletes. Overuse injuries occur because of the strength imbalance between major and minor muscles, and flexibility imbalance around certain joints.
Technique error is another very common cause of overuse injuries. If you don't know how to perform an exercise correctly, ask a coach or trainer to teach you. Proper technique is critical in order to maximize your performance and prevent damage. Even a slight form or posture mistake, if repeated, can cause damage beyond repair over time. So, learn how to properly grip your barbell, how to keep your spine neutral during your workouts, etc.
Of course, there are other causes of overuse injuries, like an untreated overuse injury, or certain body alignments like unequal leg lengths and flat or high arched feet. Proper gear also plays a key role in this. Not wearing the proper garments or footwear for the type of activity you are doing, aids overuse injuries more than you can imagine.
Overuse injuries happen in 4 phases. The first phase is when your discomfort can disappear during your warm-ups. That's why it's absolutely necessary to warm-up before every workout, in order to prevent or treat undiagnosed overuse injuries. If identified in the first phase, you can continue your activity with care and a little bit of supervision, and the condition will not worsen.
In the second phase of an overuse injury, the discomfort that may disappear during your warm-up will reappear again at the end of your workout. Your workout must be modified to a pain-free level in order to prevent further damage. And your treatment must continue until your injury is fully healed.
The third phase involves discomfort that gets worse during your workout. If your injury reaches this phase, your athletic activities must immediately stop. With the supervision of a physiotherapist, you may continue certain activities only after the problem is identified.
The fourth and last phase is when all activity must stop until maybe you will be allowed to resume your athletic endeavors. You'll know if you ever reach this phase because you will feel discomfort and pain all the time. Luckily, you can prevent all of this from happening and ensure that you have maximized results without any exposure to overuse injury and permanent muscle trauma.
Common Symptoms of Overuse Injuries
- Impaired function
Common Types of Overuse Injuries
- Compartment syndrome
- Neural mechanosensitivity
- Stress fractures
- Shin splints
- Tennis elbow
How to Prevent Overuse Injuries
Preventing an injury is always easier than treating it. So here are some tips on how to prevent an overuse injury:
- Warm-up for 10-15 minutes before you work out and warm-down after your exercise. Include stretching exercises in your warm-up as well.
- Increase your weight, speed, duration, and frequency at a rate less than 10% increase per week.
- Master perfect technique and focus on getting it right. Mind your form, posture, and execution.
- Use proper gym gear and equipment. Wear compression garments, workout gloves, proper sports shoes, etc.
- Pay attention to pain and discomfort. Not all pain is gain, and your body might be warning you that something wrong is going on with it.
- If you experience pain or discomfort, identify the cause and talk to your physician about correcting it. Ensure full injury rehabilitation. A sore left leg can cause overuse injury in the right leg through compensation.
Remember, the most common overuse injury is caused by 'too much, too soon'. Focus on getting your technique right and train with the appropriate speed, weight, and frequency for you. Even though overuse injuries can happen to anyone, they are more likely to occur as you get older. Repeating the same poorly performed exercises over and over again will damage your muscles beyond repair. Instead of getting the process of remodeling right, you could end up looking... wrong.
If your goal is to have a symmetrical physique, then it's important that you train right and with perfect technique. If you are thinking about starting a new physical activity, or if you feel that you might be exposed to overuse injuries due to poor athletic performance, maybe it's time to consult a physician and ask a coach or personal trainer to give you a nudge in the right direction. As long as you take care of your body and work out mindfully, you will get maximum results and boost your health for the better!
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