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No Pain, No Gain – Overuse Can Lead to Season Ending Injuries

by UPMC Susquehanna

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Ronald CampbellBy: Ronald Campbell, MD, Orthopedic Surgeon

Overuse injuries, or repetitive strain injuries, are common athletic injuries associated with tendons, bones, and joints. Common examples of overuse injuries include tennis elbow, swimmer's shoulder, pitching elbow, runner's knee, jumper's knee, Achilles tendinitis, and shin splints.

The human body has a tremendous capacity to adapt to physical stress. While we tend to think of “stress” negatively, physical stress, which is simply exercise and activity, is beneficial for our bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, making them stronger and more functional by the repetitive breakdown and buildup of tissue. Overuse injuries tend to occur when the breakdown and buildup are not properly proportioned leading to excess stress on the tissue.

Common causes of overuse injuries include:

  • Training errors involving technique and rapid acceleration of the intensity, duration, or frequency of activity
  • Improper technique
  • Imbalances between strength and flexibility around certain joints predispose individuals to injury.
  • Body alignment, such as knock-knees, bowlegs, unequal leg lengths, and flat or high arched feet
  • Old injuries, incompletely rehabilitated injuries, or other anatomic factors

Regardless of the injury, don’t push through the pain. Consult a physician or athletic trainer if you have pain that doesn’t improve with rest. The diagnosis can usually be made after a thorough history and physical examination. This is best done by a sports medicine specialist with specific interest and knowledge of your sport or activity. In some cases, X-rays are needed and occasionally additional tests like a bone scan or MRI are required as well.

Some tips for treating an overuse injury include:

  • Cutting back the intensity, duration, and frequency of an activity
  • Adopting a hard/easy workout schedule and cross training with other activities to maintain fitness levels
  • Learning about proper training and technique from a coach or athletic trainer
  • Performing proper warm-up activities before and after
  • Using ice after an activity for minor aches and pain
  • Using anti-inflammatory medications as necessary
  • Physical therapy and athletic training services

Most overuse injuries can be prevented with proper training and common sense. Athletes must learn to listen to their bodies. Always remember to warm up and cool down properly before and after activity. Incorporating strength training, increasing flexibility, and improving core stability will also help minimize overuse injuries. Seek the advice of a sports medicine specialist or athletic trainer when beginning an exercise program or sport to prevent chronic or recurrent problems.

Ronald Campbell, MD is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at UPMC Susquehanna. Dr. Campbell earned his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine and completed his residency with Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C.