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What is an Overuse Injury?

Man Lifting Dumbell

An overuse injury is a term used to describe an injury that occurs from tissue damage resulting from repetitive demand over a period of time rather than an acute injury such as a shoulder dislocation or an ankle sprain. These injuries can involve the muscle-tendon unit, bone, bursa, neurovascular structures, and the physis (growth plate) in pediatric athletes. A few common examples of overuse injuries include shoulder impingement, lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), and stress fractures.

Overuse injuries may occur from training errors such as ramping up an activity too fast or exercising too long without giving adequate time for rest and recovery. These may also occur when doing just one specific exercise in which only certain muscles or bones are used, such as repetitive pull-ups, or with sport specialization where only one sport is played year-round. Poor technique can also play a role in overuse injuries in which the tissue can be repetitively overloaded in an improper fashion. This can be seen during strength training exercises such as a bench press or squats and can also occur during the actual sporting activity including throwing in baseball or swinging a club in golf.

There are several ways in which overuse injuries can potentially be prevented, including:

  • Limiting exercise time to allow adequate rest and recovery
  • Limiting the number of specific repetitive movements (i.e., the number or repetitions in a specific workout routine or certain sport-specific activities such as pitch counts)
  • Making sure you’re using the correct technique and proper equipment when starting a new activity
  • Aiming for a gradual increase to achieve your workout goals rather than increasing your activity level too quickly

If an overuse injury is suspected, don’t try to push through the pain, especially if it is worsening in frequency or intensity. While treating the symptoms and diagnosing any more significant injury will be part of the initial treatment plan discussed with your physician, together it will be important to identify the cause and possible training error that lead to the injury so that it can be properly addressed and corrected. This will help to prevent future injuries and get you back in the game.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.