Avoiding "Overuse" Injuries

The nice weather beckons again. People will be heading out in droves to enjoy outdoor activities. Unfortunately, this will lead to some "overuse" injuries. These so-called "overuse" injuries by definition result from chronic repetitive forces rather than a single sudden acute trauma. The offending activity often involves a repetitive, cyclical activities such as walking, jogging, biking, swimming or swinging a racquet. Common overuse injuries include "shin splints", kneecap pain," tennis elbow" or various diagnoses ending in "-itis" such as shoulder or hip tendinitis or bursitis.

Typically these problems come on gradually with activities but without a single specific trauma. Eventually less and less activity leads to discomfort. Pain is usually the main symptom and is often described as "dull" or "aching" but can become "sharp". Early recognition and treatment is the key to minimizing these problems. Initial treatment includes " relative rest" (avoiding painful activities and substituting nonpainful) and ice. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, with the usual precautions, may be helpful. If this goes well, in a few days you may be able to slowly ramp up activity again. If the problem is persistent and recurrent, for instance lasting two or three weeks, you should probably seek medical evaluation.

Prevention is fairly simple. Some experts refer to a safe "envelope of activity". This is a volume and intensity of activity that is tolerated without injury. This "envelope" is an individual characteristic that varies with the activity, age, gender, fitness level, body type and alignment, training methods, equipment, etc.. A young, physically fit individual is going to be able to push much harder without injury than an older, sedentary person. Your personal "envelope of activity" can be improved with physical conditioning and training. There are several things that you can do to help prevent one these "overuse" injuries:

  1. Year-round conditioning and fitness activities
  2. Gradually ramp up any given activity
  3. Weight-loss/control helps minimize problems with the lower extremities and back.
  4. Adequate equipment including good shoes appropriate for the activity
  5. Proper technique - coaching can be a good investment.
  6. Cross-training - this is the old "variety and moderation". Variation of the activities reduces injury risk and improves fitness enhancement.

Increased activity with the nice weather is a great thing. Some simple measures can help us enjoy this with out injury or at least minimize any downtime if a problem develops.