Regular physical activity is the mainstay of a healthy body and a balanced mind. In fact, regular exercise helps people not only maintain a healthy weight and build strong muscles and bones, but it also supports two important body systems: the immune system and nervous system, which includes the brain. However, too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad thing.
Although we most often see overuse injuries in athletes, anyone who exercises regularly can be susceptible to them. The frequency of exercise and the type of exercise are two factors that must be taken into consideration when starting any type of exercise regimen. When exercising, anyone can get sore muscles by moving their bodies in unfamiliar ways, regardless of how fit they are. However, there is a difference between soreness and overuse.
Overuse Injuries Defined
Movement in the human body happens when muscles contract, pulling on tendons (connective tissue), which are attached to your bones. To see this in action, look at the back of your hand as you hold it up and spread your fingers. You can see the tendons extending from your fingers down to your wrist. While still keeping your fingers spread out, move your fingers as if you’re typing on a keyboard and notice your tendons. All tendons function similarly, but not visibly like in your hands. Repetitive movements can result in overuse injuries where not only your muscles, but also your tendons, bones, and joints are affected as well.
Overuse is not merely about the frequency of exercise, but a matter of intensity and technique as well. You can build stronger muscles and bones through a process of damaging and building. Physical stress signals your body to build muscle and bone density. However, there is a point where when we damage much more than our bodies can rebuild? This how overuse injuries happen.
Overuse injuries that are most commonly seen are muscle strains, microfractures, tendonitis, and stress fractures. Tennis elbow, runner’s knee, and shin splints are especially prevalent. Athletes often get overuse injuries because they are training to perfect a certain skill set. In Traditional Kung Fu training, for example, we use certain conditioning exercises to strengthen our bones, especially those in the forearms and shins. This training results in the creation of microfractures in the bone. If and when the body heals the microfractures with calcium, the bone becomes denser.
Causes of Overuse Injuries
Training error (excessively increasing the frequency and/or intensity of an exercise)
Improper training technique (e.g., posture when deadlifting)
Poor coaching or training, which often leads to causes 1 and 2 above.
Inappropriate training equipment
Avoiding Overuse Injuries
Warming up and cooling down should be incorporated in any training routine, whether professional or personal.
Incorporating a day of rest between workouts or alternating muscle groups is a must.
Be aware of personal limits. Never do too much too soon, especially after an injury.
Stretch after a warm-up (flexibility helps prevent injury)
Proper technique is vital. Do your movements correctly, whether it’s yoga or pole-vaulting. Be especially careful when lifting weights because added weight can aggravate any injury.
Use only recommended professional trainers.
Use proper footwear for the type of exercise you are doing. For example, if you’re a runner, make sure you have a decent pair of running shoes. Anyone with flat feet must use orthotics in running shoes to avoid any overuse injury.