Overuse injuries can be the bane of physically active people, from elite athletes to weekend warriors. Excessive and repeated strain on tendons, bones, and joints for weeks or months can lead to sore knees, shin pain, tennis elbow, and other overuse injuries.
Most of these problems stem from the same bad attitude: doing too much, too hard, too soon. Not getting enough rest and using poor technique or equipment can also leave you vulnerable.
You can prevent common injuries by following a few common sense rules and listening to your body.
Common Overuse Injuries
Unlike the sudden pain of a torn ligament or a sprained ankle, overuse injuries develop slowly and manifest more subtly. At first, you may feel mild pain or tenderness in the affected area right after exercising. Thereafter, the pain becomes chronic and can prevent you from practicing your sport or your daily activities.
The most common overuse injuries are:
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis): Pain and weakness on the outside of the elbow
Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis): Pain and weakness on the inside of the elbow
Swimmer’s shoulder (rotator tendonitis): Pain with overhead activities, problems sleeping on the shoulder, shoulder weakness
Runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome): Pain around or below the kneecap. It is worse when running, jumping, or riding a bike, going up or down stairs, and sitting with bent knees
Median tibial stress syndrome: Leg pain associated with running
Achilles tendonitis: Ankle pain associated with running, dancing, or jumping
Plantar fasciitis: Heel or foot pain that is often worse with the first steps of the day
Stress fractures: Pain in the foot, leg, hip, or other area aggravated by weight-bearing activity
Limits and common sense
To avoid overuse injuries without sacrificing your commitment to fitness, follow these guidelines:
Gradually increase your workouts. Stick to the 10% rule: don’t increase your training time or distance traveled by more than 10% each week.
Warm up, cool down and stretch. Warm up for five minutes before your activity by doing low-intensity exercises. Then do slow stretches that you will hold for about 30 seconds. After exercise, cool down for five minutes, then stretch again.
Rest if necessary. Fatigue can increase the risk of injury. So give your body time to recover and heal. Build rest days and easy days into your schedule.
Do several activities. Do various exercises to relieve your joints and muscles. If you focus on aerobic exercise like running, incorporate strength training into your program. And vice versa.
Learn the right technique. Take lessons or work with a coach or trainer to learn the correct techniques. Especially if you are learning a new sport or using new equipment.
Get the right gear. Choose shoes that are suitable for your activity and replace them when they are worn out. Consider using orthotics or a heel cushion if your feet hurt. Running shoes should be well cushioned.
Be sure to work your muscles evenly Strengthen the muscles on both sides of your body to avoid imbalances.
Above all, listen to your body. Don’t ignore the pain. It signals that you are at risk of injury. Remember, taking a day or two off is better than being bedridden for weeks waiting for an injury to heal.