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Top 3 Causes of Overuse Injuries

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"Overuse" is a common suspect for why someone has pain or got an injury. While there are many different reasons why an overuse injury can happen, I have put together my top 3 issues that can lead to an overuse injury.

My name is Jacob Erbes, and I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy. I run my own practice, called Apollo Performance Therapy, where I help people with recurrent pain get back to living their active lifestyles and performing at a level they can be proud of.

1) Too much, too soon.

In order for our body to tolerate the forces and actions we are asking of it, it takes time and consistency. Often, we will progress our activities faster than our body's are able to adapt to them, leading to irritate soft tissues.

The easiest example here may be running. When somebody starts up or gets back into running, they often will progress fairly quickly in the distance they are running. This is because the shorter runs start to feel really easy, so in order to get the same benefit, we need to keep making the runs longer or faster.

The issues with this is that our cardio will improve faster than our soft tissues will adapt. This leads to overuse because the tendons, ligaments, and muscles of our body might not be prepared for that extra 5-10 minutes of running, even if your heart and lungs are.

2) No variety.

“Variety is the spice of life.” — Mr. Workin, my high school Advanced Biology and Physics teacher.

When I say variety, I mean that in 2 ways. Variety in movement options, and variety in tasks. Let’s break those down more.

Variety in movement options means having several available options in order to complete a task or action. If you perform every task the same exact way, every single time, you are going to be loading the same structure over and over again. That will add up quicker than being able to slightly adjust from one time to the next. An example of this would be someone that pulls their shoulders down and back for every exercise at the gym, and then does the same thing when they are standing or sitting (gotta have that perfect posture, ya know?), and never actually gets out that position.

This could lead to problems because they are loading the same structures constantly, with everything that they do. Another example would something like throwing a baseball. If you watch professional, they are able to throw at a variety of arm angles and in a bunch of different body positions and still achieve the goal of getting to the ball to their target. This is having movements options to a T. Each of those throws with a different arm angle or body position will load the structures of their arm slightly differently, spreading the load out more between structures, and giving others more of a break.

Variety in tasks is simply being able to do different things. Being able to do different things will help avoid overuse by loading different structures. This is why variety in movement options is so important. If you have a job where you repetitively do the same things over and over again (think factory worker), or you sit at a desk all day, you need to have different options available to you to make sure that you don’t load the same area constantly. This can be as simple changing the direction you are rotating or how far you are reaching for the factory worker. It’s as simple as changing between sitting and standing, and changing HOW you are sitting and standing for the desk worker.

3) Lack of fitness.

When I say fitness, I am referring to any of the general fitness categories such as mobility, strength, conditioning, etc. I wanted to keep this broad, as what each person will need will be different based on the activities or tasks they want/need to be able to perform.

If you are weak, then everything will be harder on your body and increase your injury risk because everything is closer to your maximum output. Imagine if the heaviest thing you could lift is 100-pounds, and the heaviest things that I could lift is 200-pounds. If we both had to lift an 80-pound bag of sand, you would be at a higher risk of injury, because you are going to have to put a lot more effort into the task. Your body will be less prepared to take on that much load. Things that are more difficult for us physically, take longer to recovery from. So if you have to do something over and over again that is high effort for you, it is more likely to cause an overuse injury.

If you have poor conditioning, you will be limited in your ability to recover between tasks, and between days of doing activities. Our aerobic system is important for removing waste products from out muscles and soft tissues, and for bringing nutrients back to the area to rebuild and replenish the stores that we used. If you can’t recover between tasks, you are at a higher risk for overuse injuries, as the tissues will not be able to handle as much as they did when they were fully recovered.

Summary of Overuse Injuries

In this blog post, we explored three common factors that contribute to overuse injuries and hinder our ability to live active, pain-free lifestyles. As a Doctor of Physical Therapy and the founder of Apollo Performance Therapy, I've witnessed the impact of these issues firsthand.

Firstly, the temptation of "too much, too soon" can lead us astray. Progressing our activities faster than our bodies can adapt puts excessive strain on our soft tissues, resulting in irritation and overuse injuries. It's crucial to allow sufficient time for our bodies to tolerate the forces and actions we demand of them.

Secondly, the lack of variety in movement options and tasks can exacerbate overuse injuries. Repeating the same movement patterns without variation places repetitive stress on specific structures, increasing the risk of injury. Embracing diverse movement options and tasks helps distribute the load more evenly across our bodies, reducing the strain on individual structures.

Lastly, inadequate fitness levels, encompassing factors like mobility, strength, and conditioning, contribute to overuse injuries. Insufficient strength or poor conditioning make everyday tasks more challenging, pushing our bodies closer to their limits and increasing the likelihood of injury. Building strength and improving conditioning not only enhance performance but also promote resilience and injury prevention.

By addressing these underlying issues, we can mitigate the risk of overuse injuries and enjoy a more balanced and active life. If you're experiencing recurring pain or want guidance on injury prevention, reach out to our team at Apollo Performance Therapy. We're here to provide personalized support and help you overcome obstacles on your journey to optimal physical well-being.

If you are looking to continue working out while dealing with an injury, check out our blog post How to Exercise with Pain to learn where to start and how to stay safe. If you are looking for more personalized help, contact our team at Apollo Performance Therapy for a plan specific to your goals and current ability level.

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