Getting enough physical exercise is important for your well-being, but how do you know when you’ve suffered an injury from overuse?
A true overuse injury is usually caused by an imbalance of use within a certain muscle group. When you use specific muscles over and over, it causes them to get fatigued, leading to muscle damage.
Athletes who participate in a single sport year-round are more at risk for overuse injuries from the repetitive motions needed to perform the same sport over a long period of time. “For athletes who compete year-round, I recommend cross-training and implementing variation in their exercise routines,” says Elizabeth Dulaney-Cripe, MD, orthopedic surgeon with Kettering Physician Network. “For example, runners can swim or bike on alternate days to introduce variation for aerobic exercise. Pilates and yoga can help athletes implement stretching to help build strength in other muscle groups.”
“Warming up and stretching is probably the most important and most forgotten prevention tool,” says Dr. Dulaney-Cripe, “Stretching also helps improve flexibility and those who are more flexible tend to not suffer from injuries as often.” Be sure to warm up your muscles before stretching by starting with a lighter intensity of the activity you’re going to do. You can also warm up by going for a brisk walk or light jog. Athletes or people who enjoy playing team sports are encouraged to do light-intensity plyometrics. Once you’re warm, stretch the muscle groups you’ll be using. For sport activities, it’s best to stretch all muscle groups.
The first step in treatment is to stop activities and let the affected muscle group rest. “You don’t have to stop all activity, but anything that’s making that muscle group or area more painful should be avoided,” says Dr. Dulaney-Cripe. If the muscle group is sore at rest, you should try applying an icepack to the affected area and gently stretch the area to help relax tight muscles. Anti-inflammatory medication, like ibuprofen or aspirin, can also be taken if it’s safe to do so. Check with your doctor if you’re on any prescription medication to ensure there won’t be any interactions with other medications or supplements you’re taking.
If rest, ice therapy, and gentle stretching doesn’t relieve symptoms, you should see a doctor. You should also call your doctor if you experience sharp pain, bruising, or swelling so your doctor can rule out other injuries. X-rays can be used to rule out a fracture, and an MRI can rule out any soft tissue tears. Your doctor can also provide input on how to help your injury heal and potentially suggest a physical therapist.
If you detect an overuse injury early and stop activity, recovery can be as little as two to three weeks. If an overuse injury is ignored and activity is resumed, it could take many months to fully recover.
After your injury has healed, Dr. Dulaney-Cripe recommends working on flexibility. Muscle tightness increases joint pain and risk of injury. Everyone can work on their flexibility regardless of their athletic ability or current flexibility. “Find something that interests you. Go to the gym and try yoga classes, you can even stretch at home or at work. There are many online resources for specific flexibility tips for different muscle groups,” says Dr. Dulaney-Cripe.
To view a list of Kettering Health Network Sports Medicine programs and locations, visit ketteringhealth.org/sportsmed