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Overuse Injuries Causing Joint or Back Pain

Tennis elbow. Swimmer's shoulders. Runner's knee. Achilles tendinitis. Shin splints. These are all examples of overuse injuries resulting from repetitive micro-trauma to the tendons, bones and joints. Surprisingly, overuse injuries are more common in sports than acute injuries. But since they're subtle and usually occur gradually, overuse injuries are more challenging to diagnose and treat.

Overuse Injury Symptoms

Overuse injuries can happen when you try to take on too much physical activity too quickly. Symptoms may include:

  • Gradual onset of pain (more of an ache)
  • No history of direct injury
  • Stiffness or aching during or after activity
  • Increasing periods of time for pain to go away
  • Point tenderness
  • Visible swelling and inflammation

Overuse Injury Risk Factors

Although an overuse injury can happen to anyone, people with body alignment conditions, such as knock-knees, bowlegs, unequal leg lengths, and flat or high arched feet, may be more prone. Overuse injuries are also more likely to occur as you age, especially if you don't modify your routine accordingly.

Most overuse injuries can be prevented with proper training and common sense. For example:

  • Learn proper technique from a coach or athletic trainer
  • Perform warm-up/cool-down stretches before and after exertion
  • Use proper form and gear
  • Gradually increase your activity level
  • Cross-train or alternate with other activities
  • Use ice after an activity for minor aches and pain
  • Take anti-inflammatory medications as necessary

Overuse Injury Treatment

Treatment usually includes not using the injured muscle, tendon, ligament or bone until it has time to heal and your pain disappears. When advised by your doctor, you may gently start stretching the injured area, followed by a very gradual increase in the intensity, duration and frequency of your activities.

When an overuse injury isn't given time to heal, it can cause other more serious injuries like ruptured tendons and ligaments and fractures. So if you suspect that you have an overuse injury, talk with the orthopedic specialists at Summa Health before returning to activity.

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If your situation is an emergency, call 911.