How to Avoid Common Overuse Injuries

Whether you've been working out all season or are just getting back in shape for the summer, you are probably like most people ramping up their training intensities for competition or to look good in a bathing suit.

But with the increase in training intensity comes increased risk of overuse injuries. Overuse injuries are caused by repetitive movements which cause stress to structures of the body. And while repetition is necessary for adaptation, the repetitive stresses of training can irritate or inflame your muscles, bones and joints. Injuries caused by training increases or by repetitive motions are not only annoying, but can linger and potentially become serious.

For athletes, overuse injuries can decrease the ability to train at maximum potential. This can leave an athlete grounded with pain and discomfort or even take them out for the season if not taken care of properly.

Types of Overuse Injuries

The most common types of overuse injuries are inflammatory problems involving either the tendons or something often referred to as "shin splints" because of where the pain subsides.

Tendon pain can be misdiagnosed as there are different types. It's important to understand these differences and to treat them accordingly:

Tendonitis: Simply put, it's inflammation of a tendon. Pain and swelling are the first noticeable symptoms of tendonitis. The pain can be sporadic or constant and can vary in intensity. Inflammation can be minimal and can cause a sensation of tightness or a "stiff joint." Tendonitis is very common in runners and running sports where athletes are training on hard ground. It can attack any tendon in the body, but is a more common a problem in the larger tendons used more often. Ice and anti-inflammatory medications can alleviate the symptoms and discomfort. A light resistive, low-impact exercise can also help strengthen the tendon.

Tendonosis: Tendonosis is not tendonitis. In many ways it is actually worse. It literally means tendon pain, and is very common in people who have had pain in their tendons for long periods of time. This can occur after an inflammatory injury (like tendonitis) has occurred. Even though the inflammation has subsided, the tissue can still be irritated and damaged without any inflammation, causing prolonged pain.

Ultimately, tendonosis is caused by lack of blood supply to the tendon. Less blood equals less nutrition to the cells. These tendons rely on nearby muscles to provide the circulation and nutrition. When muscles are chronically tight from overuse, they put constant tension on their attached tendons, making it harder for the tendons to absorb nutrients.

When the tendon doesn't get the nutrition it needs to repair itself from normal wear and tear, the cells begin to starve and die faster than the body can replace them. This happens for a long time before you ever feel any problems. Eventually, the tendon degrades enough that it can no longer hold together under the stress and the tendon can rip apart.

Typical treatments involve strengthening and rest. Ice and anti-inflammatory medications may not help to alleviate the symptoms. Prolonged periods of rest from the problem activity may be necessary to fully recover from tendonosis. Very similar to tendonitis, tendon pain without inflammation should be treated with light resistive exercise with little to no impact.

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