Overuse injuries can be common when you begin a new exercise routine, ramp up your
current plan, or are simply doing the same repetitive movements too often. Overuse
injuries can affect both muscles or joints and the result is usually a strained muscle, tendon or joint, and sometimes even stress fractures can even result.
The main causes of overuse injuries include:
- Taking on too much, too quickly. When you take on too much physical activity too quickly, you can hurt yourself. You may feel like you need to jump in with two feet, keep up to others, or make up for lost time, but I caution you to take it slow at first. You may also feel that you need to push yourself really hard to get a great workout (if you’re not sore after, did you really work out?) but its really important to ease into a new program in order to build the muscles necessary to avoid overuse injuries. Besides, muscle soreness isn’t a necessary outcome – you can still have a really effective routine with progress, AND still be able to move the day after each session.
- Improper form or technique. When we start a new program, we generally have some pre-existing muscular weaknesses, and often when performing an exercise we may compensate for these weaknesses and end up straining other muscles. Bad form or technique may results in stress injuries because you’re not using the correct muscles to complete the exercise.
How do I avoid overuse injuries?
- See your doctor before starting a new program. It never hurts to have everything checked over to make sure you are ready to begin your new program!
- Discuss any existing weakness or injuries with your fitness professional. If you have areas which cause you grief, talk with your trainer or instructor so they can provide you some alternatives, as well as some exercises you can do specifically to address those weaknesses. They can also ensure that you’re not compensating for those weaknesses while completing your program.
- Ease into your program. You may be raring to go, but its best if you take things slow when you begin a new program. Your body needs some time to adjust to your new program, so you need to fight the urge to jump in too quickly. Besides, if you get injured you’ll be back to square one. Don’t try to impress or compete with others at the gym or in your class – its your journey and you should be taking things at YOUR pace. Keep things a little more gradual than you’d like – better safe than injured! So, don’t be too embarrassed to perform modified exercises while starting out – form is more important than your “appearance”. Speak to your trainer or instructor for additional options if you need them, there will be plenty of opportunity to progress to more difficult exercises as you gain strength and get your basic form down.
- For every workout, you MUST warm up before, and cool down and stretch thoroughly after. A 5-8 minute warm up is crucial in getting your body (and mind!) ready for a workout, and a solid stretching routine after you complete your workout can be a huge factor in improving flexibility and preventing overuse injuries. Holding each stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds will help you to actually improve your flexibility, build more strength in your tendons and ligaments and reduce the risk of injury. A proper stretching routine (always after you’ve warmed your body up!) will help to reduce muscle soreness post-workout as well.
- Don’t forget the REST days! They are nearly important as the workout days- your body needs the time to recover from your exercise – it’s during the rest time that your muscles repair themselves! Keeping rest days in your schedule will keep your body and mind fresh, and ready for the next workout!
- Mix it up! Do different types and styles of workouts, and perform different exercises so you’re not doing too many repetitive movements. Keeping your workouts varied will also keep you from getting bored, as well as reduce the likelihood of any plateaus!
- Proper footwear and attire are important. Having proper support is key to more than just keeping your feet free of injury – it will also help keep proper alignment for your ankles, knees and hips, which of course can impact alignment in your back and upper body, too. Get a footwear assessment done at a reputable shop – ask your local runner friends for a great recommendation! Even if you can’t afford to pay their price, you can try them on and get some great recommendations – then you can look around online for a great price! The right shoes can make all the difference, and are worth the money.
- Incorporate things like foam rolling, physiotherapy, and massages into your routine. They will help you to keep things from getting too tight and unbalanced. Also, who doesn’t need a good regular massage?!
- Think about hiring a personal trainer. Because proper technique and form is so key in preventing overuse injuries, you may want to seek some professional advice one-on-one to address your personal strengths and weaknesses, and help you develop the right form. A personal trainer can also assist you in building a program that will help you to strengthen areas of weakness, prevent injuries and help you with targeting areas of your fitness you want to improve on.
What if I’ve got an injury?
- Seek medical help early on if having pain – better to nip it in the bud than to suffer long term. See your doctor and/or physiotherapist as soon as possible, and in the meantime it is best to rest in order to avoid further damage. A few days off is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but if you make it worse you could be out for weeks or even longer.
- If the pain is acute, follow the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation), icing for 20 minutes on, and then off until full feeling returns to the area.
- Muscle pain vs. an injury – if pain lasts beyond 72h and is near a joint it is likely no longer just muscle soreness. Time to see the doctor!
- Listen to your body – sometimes we just need a bit of an extra break to recover from a hard workout, deal with extra muscle soreness, or to fight off a cold or flu. If you’re feeling run down, maybe its time to take some tender loving care of you!
The risks of potential injury should not stop you from beginning an exercise program, but it is important that you take things slow and gradually increase intensity in order to reduce those risks. Keep things varied, focus on your form and techniques until you’ve got them solidified, and you’ll have a solid base to build on. You can still have the progress you desire, but without the injuries!