Overuse Injuries

Untitled 4 300x300 Overuse InjuriesOveruse injury can happen when you try to take on too much physical activity too quickly. Understand how to pace yourself while getting fit.


Overuse injuries, otherwise known as cumulative trama disorders, are described as tissue damage that results from repetitive demand over the course of time. The term refers to a vast array of diagnoses, including occupational, recreational, and habitual activities.


Overuse Injuries Can Occur to the Following Structures:

  • Muscle-tendon attachments to bone (e.g. tennis elbow)
  • The periosteum cartilage, which is the covering of the bone (e.g. shin splints)
  • The bursa (e.g. bursitis in the shoulder)
  • Nerve tissue (e.g. RSI)
  • The bone (e.g. stress fractures).

Exercise applies stress to the body. Your body adapts 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 cause microscopic injuries, leading to inflammation, which is the body’s response to injury.

Signs of Overuse or Inflammation include:

  • Swelling (which may be unnoticeable)
  • Warmth to the touch
  • Redness
  • Impaired function of the part.

All of these signs may be present but not noticeable in the beginning stages.  Often the first sign may be stiffness or soreness (especially in the morning) which may disappear with warm-up.

Continued use may cause continued damage and the pain will last through and past warm-up and may be even worse after activity is finished.

The Four Stages of an Overuse Injury:

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

Injury identification and treatment in stage 1, allows continuing activity as long as the injury does not worsen.

A stage 2, activity may continue at a modified pain-free level while being treated.  Treatment must continue until completely healed.

If the injury progresses to stage 3, activity must immediately cease. The supervising physiotherapist will allow a return to activity after identifying the cause and you are completely symptom-free. Competitive athletes, depending on the individual circumstances, may return to activity with stage 1 symptoms.

What Causes Overuse Injuries?

  • Lack of appropriate muscle strengthor endurance
  • Poor core stability
  • Muscle imbalance (strong tight muscles versus weak stretched muscles)
  • Inflexibility
  • Malalignment or Biomechanical issues (e.g. flat foot, squinting patellae)
  • Training errors
  • Faulty technique
  • Incorrect equipment.

By far the most common cause of overuse injury is training errors.  Moreover, the most common error is “too much, too soon”.

How to Prevent an Overuse Injury

We can prevent overuse syndromes.  Some of the ways to prevent this injury include:

  • Warm-up (including stretching) and warm-down (including stretching) before and after all exercise.
  • Use proper equipment (e.g. jogging shoes for jogging, a racquet that is the right size with the proper grip size and strings strung to your level of play).
  • 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, e.g. a sore right leg can cause an overuse injury in the left through compensation.

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