Overuse injury: How to prevent training injuries

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Overuse injury: How to prevent training injuries

Thinking of starting a new physical activity program or ramping up your current training program? If so, you may be at risk of an overuse injury — which could ultimately prevent you from being active. Find out what can cause an overuse injury and how to safely increase your activity level.

Common causes of overuse injury

An overuse injury is any type of muscle or joint injury, such as tendinitis or a stress fracture, that's caused by repetitive trauma. An overuse injury typically stems from:

  • Training errors. Training errors can occur when you enthusiastically take on too much physical activity too quickly. Going too fast, exercising for too long or simply doing too much of one type of physical activity can strain your muscles and lead to an overuse injury.
  • Technique errors. Improper technique can also take its toll on your body. If you use poor form as you do a set of strength training exercises, swing a golf club or throw a baseball, for example, you may overload certain muscles and cause an overuse injury.

Although an overuse injury can happen to anyone, you may be more prone to overuse injuries if you have certain medical conditions. Overuse injuries are also more likely to occur as you get older — especially if you don't recognize the impact aging can have on your body and modify your routine accordingly.

Avoiding overuse injury

Most overuse injuries are avoidable. To prevent an overuse injury:

  • Address medical conditions. It's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting a new type of physical activity — especially if you have a medical condition that may predispose you to an overuse injury. You may need to correct imbalances in flexibility and strength or, if you've had a previous injury, work to restore range of motion, muscle strength and stability. Your doctor may offer tips to help make physical activity safe. If you have a muscle weakness in your hip, for example, your doctor may show you exercises to address the problem and prevent knee pain.
  • Use proper form and gear. Whether you're starting a new type of physical activity or you've been playing a sport for a long time, consider taking lessons. Using the correct technique is crucial to preventing overuse injuries. Also make sure you wear proper shoes for the activity. Consider replacing your shoes for every 300 miles you walk or run, or — if you regularly exercise — at least twice a year.
  • Pace yourself. If you're starting a new physical activity program, avoid becoming a weekend warrior. Compressing your physical activity for the week into two days can lead to an overuse injury. Instead, aim for at least two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity — preferably spread throughout the week. Always take time to warm up before physical activity and cool down afterward. Also keep in mind that as you age, you may not be able to do the same activities that you did years ago. Consider ways to modify activities to suit your abilities.
  • Gradually increase your activity level. When changing your activity level or the amount of weight you're using while strength training, keep it gradual — such as increases of no more than 10 percent each week until you reach your new goal.
  • Mix up your routine. Instead of focusing on one type of exercise, consider combining two or more types of physical activity, also known as cross-training. Doing a variety of low-impact activities — such as walking, biking, swimming and water jogging — in moderation can help prevent overuse injuries by allowing your body to use different muscle groups. Strive to include aerobic exercise, strength training, stretching, core stability and balance training elements in your routine.

Recovering from overuse injury

If you suspect that you have an overuse injury, consult your doctor. He or she will likely ask you to stop doing the activity that caused the injury and recommend medication for any pain and inflammation. More important, make sure you discuss with your doctor your physical activity program — including any recent changes in technique, intensity, duration, frequency or types of activity. Identifying the root cause of your overuse injury and ensuring that you're using the proper technique will help you correct the problem and avoid repeating it. When you think the overuse injury has healed, ask your doctor to check that you've completely regained strength, motion, flexibility and balance before beginning the activity again.

Playing it safe

Don't allow overuse injuries to prevent you from being physically active. By working with your doctor, listening to your body and pacing yourself, you can avoid this common setback and safely increase your activity level.

Last Updated: 2010-03-05
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