Understanding and Preventing Overuse Injuries

April 23, 2015 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Overuse injuries can be extremely difficult to treat, and their effects tend to linger.

Today’s post comes from Dr. Elizabeth Matzkin, Surgical Director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Team Physician for Stonehill College Athletics, and Dr. Matthew Riedel, an orthopedic resident at BWH.

With warmer weather headed our way and more people running more frequently, we would like to focus this segment of our running/marathon blog series on overuse injuries and how to avoid them. As opposed to acute injuries, which happen suddenly, overuse injuries are more subtle and occur as a result of repetitive microtrauma (small injuries) to the musculoskeletal system. Given the subtle and chronic nature of these injuries, they can be extremely difficult to treat and their effects tend to linger and can be bothersome for weeks to months. These injuries occur when there is an imbalance in your body’s remodeling process – the natural breakdown and rebuilding of tissues that occurs with exercise and rest. Ramping up your exercise too quickly, not allowing adequate recovery between workouts, or using poor form/technique can lead to these injuries by overly stressing a specific muscle group, tendon, ligament, bone, or joint. Unfortunately, the treatment for these injuries is mainly supportive – greatly scaling back your exercise/training routine or resting the injured body part altogether, using anti-inflammatory medications and ice, and, most importantly, giving yourself time to heal. The good news is that many, if not all, overuse injuries are 100 percent avoidable by listening to your body and following a few simple guidelines.

1. Always include an adequate warm-up and cool-down period in your exercise routine

This will ensure that your body is prepared to exercise and prevent undue strain to muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

2. Be mindful of your form and gear

Consider having a trainer analyze your technique, and remember that your shoes wear out and should be replaced every 300 miles or a few times per year.

 3. Allow adequate recovery

Spread your workouts out over the course of the week. Don’t try to squeeze it all in on the weekends.

 4. Don’t ramp up your training too quickly

A good guideline to follow is the 10 percent rule – don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent per week to ensure that your body is able to adapt and has adequate recovery time.

5. Include variety in your routine

Don’t just focus on one type of exercise. Performing a mix of running, swimming, biking, strength training, and other types of exercise allows your body to use different muscle groups and prevents overuse of one particular area.

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