In the world of sports, roughly a quarter of all injuries are due to overuse. An overuse injury happens because of repetitive strain, when people over exert themselves in sports and exercise, or have improper technique or form that puts undue force on joints and muscles. Overuse also happens when people do not give their bodies ample time to recover–in other words, when people go too hard, too fast before their bodies can rebuild. Unfortunately, overuse injuries are becoming more common, especially in young athletes.
How to spot an overuse injury?
Feeling sore after working out or after a particularly intense soccer match is normal. However, if you have pain that does not go away after a few days, or pain that limits movement and does not eventually lessen, then you may have an overuse injury.
Some sports injuries are more common than others. Overuse injuries often plague areas that absorb most of the stress of pivoting and movement, like knees or shoulders. Below are six of the most common overuse injuries in the sports world, and how to better spot them:
Patellofemoral Pain (Affected area: Knees)
Knees are some of the hardest working joints in sports, and as such, is also vulnerable to overuse injuries. Patellofemoral pain–commonly known as jumper’s or runner’s knee–is pain that radiates from the front of the knee. The pain intensifies with movement, such as bending, stretching, or squatting.
Patellofemoral pain occurs when the tissues around and underneath the kneecap becomes irritated, leading to swelling and difficulty of movement. This may be due to slipping or falling on the knee, or simple, repetitive stress.Related Post: Road to Recovery: Hurdling the Unhappy Triad
Shin Splints (Affected area: Lower leg)
Shin splints affect the tibia (shin bone), and is an injury that commonly affects runners. The pain may present as a dull, throbbing ache, or a sharp, stabbing sensation at the front, lower part of the leg. Shin splints can become stress fractures when left untreated.
Shin splints are usually due to footwear that do not offer sufficient padding, and as such redirect too much force to the shins when running. In sports, shin splints commonly occur at the start of a season, when athletes can ramp up training too fast, too soon.
Rotator Cuff Tendinitis (Affected area: Shoulders)
The rotator cuff is made up of muscles that surround the shoulder joint, and is primarily responsible for attaching the rest of your arm to your shoulder blade. It helps the shoulder joint rotate smoothly in its socket.
Rotator cuff tendinitis is an injury that affects the muscles surrounding the shoulder, and is common in sports that require athletes to flex their arms overhead, like swimming and baseball. The pain originates from the front of the shoulder, and the area can appear swollen and feel tender. Reaching and raising your arm often feels painful, and it may be hard to lower your arm.
Tennis Elbow (Affected area: Arms)
Tennis elbow, as the name implies, is common to tennis players and athletes who play racquet sports like badminton, or table tennis. People in professions that require repetitive elbow movements, like painting, or plumbing. This injury often affects a tendon called the Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis, which is a tendon that attaches the muscles to the bone.
Tennis elbow occurs when forearm muscles and tendons become irritated due to overuse, and form microtears that lead to inflammation. This injury presents itself as a burning, painful sensation on the outer, lower arm area, and a noticeably weaker grip.
Achilles Tendinitis (Affected area: Leg)
The Achilles tendon is the largest in tendon in the body, and is responsible for attaching calf muscles to the heel. Achilles tendinitis occurs when the tendon becomes irritated and inflamed. The injury is common to athletes who in sports that require a lot of running, sprinting, jumping, or climbing.
Pain from Achilles tendinitis usually starts as an ache or stiffness in the back of the lower leg that gets exacerbated with exercise.
Hip Flexor Strain (Affected area: Thigh)
Hip flexors are the muscles in front of your thigh, and are the ones at work for movements that bring the knee closer to the body, or bending at the hip. This particular group of muscles are more likely to get injured in sports like cycling, soccer, and martial arts.
With hip flexor strain, the front of the thigh can feel tender, and swollen. In some cases, bruises may appear.
How to avoid overuse injuries
Athletes should buy gear that offer adequate protection and support. For instance, soccer players and runners should buy footwear with a strong arch support to avoid shin splints. Tennis players should ensure that they are using the right sized racquet.
Proper stretching and cool down sessions are also important to help the body prepare and recover from the stress of sports and exercise. Without stretching, muscles and tendons are likelier to tear. Not only that, but athletes should have at least two rest days every week to allow the body to rest and rebuild.
How to recover from overuse and traumatic injuries
For mild to moderate overuse injuries, doctors prescribe the PRICE (protection, rest, ice, compression, elevation) therapy for the first two to three days. It is important to rest the strained muscle or joint, and avoid all activities that may further stress the area. Over-the-counter painkillers are taken to help manage the pain. Sometimes, physical therapists are called in to help athletes regain their full range of motion, as well as teach proper technique.
Left untreated, these injuries may cause major, potentially career-ending musculoskeletal injuries such as fractures, torn ligaments, or ruptured tendons. Surgery is often the next course of action in such cases. Hip arthroscopy, shoulder arthroscopy, and ligament reconstruction are common procedures in treating sports-related injuries.
Fully recovering from an overuse injury requires rest and avoiding the action that caused the injury in the first place. Failing to address these injuries can lead to more serious complications. It is important to know when you are just sore, or when you are injured. If you feel pain, tenderness, swelling, or bruising that does not go away or get better after a couple of days, it’s best to consult with a doctor.
Schedule a check-up with us at Dr. Andrew Quoc Dutton Orthopaedic and Sports Clinic if you suspect you may have an overuse injury. Dr. Dutton, has been in the medical practice since 1996, and can treat a variety of sports injuries.