Could an Overuse Injury Be Standing Between You and Your Fitness Goals?

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According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, as much as 45.9% to 54% of all injuries can be classified as an overuse injury and caused by lack of adequate rest. There are also some indications that these numbers are increasing. 

Prevention is the best medicine for overuse injury. It may start as bearable and annoying pain, but it can lead to damage that can significantly halt your athletic performance. If you leave your overuse injury untreated, it will turn into a chronic issue that’s difficult to manage. 

Learn more about overuse injuries and how to deal with them.

What Is Overuse Injury?

Many athletes are proud of the hard work they put into their regular exercise – and they should be! This shows dedication, persistence, and includes many health benefits as a side effect. However, training long and hard, even when your body shows the signs of fatigue and experiences pain may be a sign that you are developing an overuse injury.

When you are exercising, you are causing many micro-injuries to your muscles, tendons, and bones. The resting time is when these injuries heal and make your body stronger. If you don’t allow this time for your body, those injuries don’t get to heal and they get bigger and more problematic. That’s how an overuse injury happens.

Overuse injuries develop over time. Unlike acute injuries, there is no one-time event, like a fall or a hit that causes the pain. On the contrary, it is a gradually developing injury that can halt your progress toward your fitness goals. 

What Are the Symptoms of Overuse Injury?

Since the overuse injury happens gradually, the symptoms can be very mild at the beginning and then they worsen. Many athletes tolerate pain very well, so that can sometimes, be the cause why they don’t realize they are dealing with an overuse injury in time. Here are the 4 most common overuse injury symptoms:

  1. Pain gradually increasing: When you have an acute injury, caused by a traumatic event, you feel the pain right away. You hit your knee – it hurts. You sprain your ankle – it hurts instantly. When you are developing an overuse injury, you can feel it as discomfort for a long time before it turns into mild pain and grows from there.
  2. Pain doesn’t go away: Once the pain is there, it is slow to go away. With acute injuries, the RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) usually helps ease the pain. If the RICE doesn’t work, it might be an overuse injury.
  3. There was no direct injury: If you cannot recall hurting your elbow or pushing your shoulder too hard, then it may be an overuse injury. When you have an acute injury, you remember when it happened and how. 
  4. Activity causes aching pain: Overuse injury is usually the result of repetitive motions that use the same muscles, tendons, and bones. If you participate in the same activity that caused it and repeat the same movements, the injury will start to ache because it’s growing.

What Are 3 Possible Causes of Overuse Injuries?

There are many possible causes, but there are 3 main causes of overuse injuries:

  • Too many repetitive motions 
  • Wrong exercise technique
  • Inadequate training plan

An overuse injury happens due to numerous repetitive motions that activate the same muscles, bones, and tendons. If this wear and tear happen frequently, with little to no rest, and without giving it enough time to heal, overuse injury will most definitely occur.

Proper exercise techniques are usually developed after years and trial and error by the most experienced and the most successful athletes. While they are developed to promote fitness goals, they are also developed to preserve the exerciser’s body and keep it injury-free. 

Failing to nail down proper technique, you are at risk of performing movements in a way the burdens all the wrong muscles. Surrounding bones, muscles, and tendons may try to compensate and get overworked in the process.

You need a good training plan to reach your fitness goals. Your fitness plans can work only if they include enough rest days. If they don’t you will risk an overuse injury that will set back your progress for months.

What Are the 4 Stages of Overuse Injuries?

If you have an acute injury, you are aware of it right away. On the other hand, overuse injury happens gradually. It’s possible to classify this progress into four stages:

Stage 1: You experience pain after physical activity.

Stage 2: You experience the pain during the activity, but it doesn’t cause you to stop.

Stage 3: You experience pain that causes you to stop your activity.

Stage 4: You experience the pain even when you are resting.

What Is the Most Common Overuse Injury?

Sports usually require repetitive motions for prolonged periods of time. That’s why overuse injuries are very much common with professional athletes. They are even more common with those athletes that aren’t professionals because they rarely have a team of coaches and medical staff to monitor their progress. Here is a list of the most common overuse injuries:

Overuse InjuryWhat is it?How does it feel?
Tennis elbowTendonitis of the outer side of the forearm.Pain in the forearm when gripping an object.
Golfer’s elbowTendonitis of the inner side of the forearm.Same as with tennis elbow.
Swimmer’s shoulderTendonitis of the tendons surrounding the shoulder blades.Pain when reaching overhead or behind the back.
Golfer’s kneeInflammation of the knee.Pain and discomfort. Possible movement restriction.
Runner’s kneeInflammation or patella damage.Pain in the front of the knee between the knee cap and thigh bone. Sometimes clicking, crackling sounds during activity.
Shin SplintsMultiple tendonitis and stress fractures of the shin.Tenderness, swelling, or soreness of the inner side of the shin bone.
Plantar fasciitisInflammation of the plantar (foot) fascia.Pain on the bottom of the foot. Usually around the heel and arch.
Achilles tendinitisTendonitis of the tendon attaching calf muscles to the heel.Severe tendon, and/or ankle pain.

How Long Does Overuse Injury Take to Heal?

Depending on their stage and severity, overuse injuries can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to heal. It is easy to underestimate an overuse injury. Since there is no trauma that causes it and it appears gradually, some athletes can wrongly assume that it’s nothing that needs treatment. The truth is, overuse injuries can take a long time to heal.

How Do You Treat an Overuse Injury?

The first step of treating the overuse injury is to rest. Cutting off the cause of the injury and preventing it from getting any worse is what needs to be done right away.

The next step is managing the symptoms. Ice and pain medication are some of the options that should be included to alleviate the pain. These medications can include different gels and topical analgesics. Portable red light therapy devices applied directly to the painful area can also alleviate pain without any unwanted side effects that medication can sometimes have.

When the pain is gone, it is necessary to develop a treatment plan with a medical expert. According to A Clinician’s Guide to Treating Chronic Overuse Injuries, this plan should consist of exercise therapy, stretching/strengthening, manual therapies, and Kinesio taping. For some extreme cases, plasma or stem-cell injections are also considered.

There are even some instances when surgery is suggested for overuse injuries, but this is in the worst-case scenario and such invasive procedures should be avoided if possible.

Red light therapy can be an excellent primary or supplemental method of soothing pain and promoting the body’s ability to heal overuse injuries. 

Those athletes that don’t have the time to stand in front of wall panels, or pay for regular red light therapy treatments should invest in a portable red light therapy device. In that way, they can have all the benefits of other red light therapy options for a lower price and more convenience. Explore FlexBeam to find out how it can help you with your overuse injuries and your fitness goals.