Overuse is a common cause of injury in athletes of all ages. Sports often require repetitive motion of certain muscle groups. Over time, these motions can cause injury to the muscles, ligaments, tendons, or bone.
Overuse injuries are generally the result of improper training and conditioning or a lack of rest between activities. If you’ve taken a lot of time off from a sport, that could also contribute to an overuse injury, especially if you try to perform at your previous level.
It’s important to be able to spot the symptoms of common overuse injuries. If you persist with an activity despite having injury symptoms, you can end up with a much worse injury that could sideline you for weeks or even months.
These are some of the most common overuse injuries among athletes. Act accordingly if you spot symptoms of any of these conditions.
1. Achilles Tendonitis
The Achilles tendon is the tendon that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. It is one of the largest tendons in the body and can withstand a lot of stress. We use this tendon when walking, running, and jumping. For this reason, athletes tend to put a lot of stress on this tendon.
Achilles tendonitis occurs when the Achilles tendon takes on too much stress. Symptoms include pain along the back of the heel, particularly after activity. Swelling is another common symptom, and it tends to worsen with activity as well. In some cases, a bone spur will develop where the tendon attaches to the heel bone. The spur can rub against the tendon, further irritating it. Eventually, the tendon can tear. If you feel a sudden “pop” at the back of your heel during activity, seek medical attention immediately.
2. Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow is, of course, common among tennis players, but it can also those who play other racquet sports. Tennis elbow generally affects a tendon called the ECRB, which attaches forearm muscles to the outer portion of your elbow. With overuse of this tendon, as with tennis strokes, microscopic tears can develop. This causes the tendon to become inflamed.
Symptoms of tennis elbow include pain or burning in the outer portion of the elbow and weakened grip strength. It is most common in the dominant arm.
3. Rotator Cuff Tendonitis / Shoulder Impingement
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach the upper arm to the shoulder blade. Repetitive use of the shoulder can result in either rotator cuff tendonitis or shoulder impingement. This is common among athletes whose sports require overhead activity, such as baseball, swimming, and tennis.
With rotator cuff tendonitis, the rotator cuff becomes irritated and/or damaged. Common early symptoms include pain in the shoulder area, particularly with lifting and reaching movements and when throwing or serving a ball. Eventually, the injury can cause loss of strength and range of motion in the shoulder.
Shoulder impingement occurs when the acromion, the bone at the top of the shoulder, rubs against the rotator cuff. The space between the acromion and the rotator cuff narrows when the arm is raised to shoulder height, so symptoms may be more prevalent when the arm is raised.
4. Shin Splints
Shin splints are a common injury in runners. This injury occurs when the muscle and bone tissue in the leg endure too much activity, causing the tissue to become inflamed. Shin splints commonly affect the inner edge of the shinbone in the lower leg.
Shin splints cause pain along the inner edge of the shinbone. Pain intensity can vary from dull and throbbing to sharp and razor-like. You may feel pain both during and after exercise. Touching the sore spot may increase pain.
5. Patellofemoral Pain (Pain at the Front of the Knee)
Patellofemoral pain syndrome refers to pain at the front of the knee around the kneecap. The patella, or kneecap, moves back and forth when bending and straightening the knee. Repetitive stress on the knee can cause irritation to the tissues underneath and surrounding the kneecap, resulting in pain at the front of the knee. It is often called “runner’s knee” or “jumper’s knee” because it is common in athletes.
Patellofemoral pain generally presents as a dull, aching pain at the front of the knee. Pain often gets worse with repeated bending of the knee, as with running, jumping, and squatting. Pain may also get worse if you sit with your knees bent for an extended period of time, and you may experience popping or cracking in the knee upon standing.
Listen to your body! If something doesn’t feel right, stop what you are doing and seek medical care. Failure to do so could result in a worse injury down the line.