Staying in the Game: How to Prevent Overuse Injury

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From tennis elbow to jumper’s knee to stress fractures, overuse injuries have the same cause. When you push a certain bone, muscle or joint too hard too often, the damage can add up.

Your body’s healing powers are amazing, but you have to give them time.

This type of damage, called overuse or repetitive motion injuries, are often seen in elite athletes pushing their limits. But just about anyone can get them. Each body is different, and injury tends to come when a person pushes their own boundaries, wherever they are.

An overuse injury can happen to an inactive person who starts walking long distances. Or it can hit a regular walker who takes an intense exercise class.

There are no hard-and-fast rules, no numbers of miles you shouldn’t walk or weight you shouldn’t lift. What matters is starting where you are — not where you want to be — and taking it slowly.

It may be tempting to cut corners by rushing things, but you’ll only slow yourself down. Though they can be painful, an overuse injury’s real danger is that it can end an exercise effort before it begins.

Ease Into It

Whether you’re walking, swimming, biking or gardening, start at an intensity and duration that’s comfortable for you. Depending on your fitness level, that could mean walking 3 blocks — or it could mean running 3 miles.

You’ll get more benefits of exercise if you exercise harder, but take it slow. The general advice is to add 10 percent more weight, distance or time each week.

That means if you use 10-pound weights for a bicep curl one week, go to 11 pounds the next week. And if you jog for 2 miles one week, add .2 miles the next week.

Each week, your bones and muscles will be getting a little bit stronger. If you take it slow, they can heal and rebuild without getting damaged.

Easing into and out of each day’s activities can also prevent overuse injuries.

Warm Up, Cool Down

If you’re running, bicycling or doing another activity that strengthens your heart and lungs, start each session with a warm up for five to 10 minutes.

Similarly, if you’re lifting weights, go for some light ones first to start your blood flowing to your muscles.

After you’re done, spend another five to 10 minutes cooling off by walking and stretching. Your muscles will thank you later.

Listen to Your Body

An overstressed body will send out warning signs before an overuse injury happens. If you’re in pain during exercise that lasts more than a few days, it could be a sign that your body is under more stress.

If that happens, give it time to heal. If possible, keep staying active by finding an activity that doesn’t put weight on the bone or muscle that’s hurting. Swimming or elliptical machines are often good ways to give bones a break.

Resting at least one day a week by simply doing nothing is also a good way to give your body time to recover. Adding stretching routines, like yoga or Pilates, to the mix can improve your joints’ range of motion.

Being active in body, mind and spirit is a central tenet of AdventHealth’s CREATION Life philosophy. Preventing and effectively treating overuse injuries preserves your ability to keep moving.

If an overuse injury needs immediate attention, AdventHealth’s urgent care centers and emergency departments offer convenient, on-demand care.

For a list of all of your options, check out our website. If your injuries don't improve with at-home exercises and rest, contact our Sports Medicine and Rehab team to learn about physical therapy.

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