Overuse injuries might sound like something only professional athletes get, but they can affect anyone who plays sports, including youth.
What is an overuse injury? Also called repetitive strain injuries, overuse injuries are those caused by repetitive movement and trauma. They can affect muscles, bones or joints, and result in problems like tendinitis, shin splints or stress fractures. They can occur in different parts of the body.
Many activities and sports can cause overuse injuries, including volleyball and baseball. Gymnastics, running, tennis, basketball and cheerleading can also lead to this type of injury. If you or your child is at risk for or has an overuse injury, an orthopedic specialist can help prevent, diagnose or treat the problem.
How do overuse injuries occur?
A variety of scenarios can result in overuse injuries, some of which may be related to training and some to technique. They can occur when a person:
- Does too much of an activity too quickly
- Does an activity too fast
- Does an activity for too long
- Doesn't vary movements or activities
- Uses improper techniques
- Uses improper gear or equipment
A person who specializes in a sport can be at risk for overuse injuries if they don't follow a proper training regimen or take a break between seasons. Certain medical conditions or age may influence your risk. Older people may not adjust their athletic routines for their aging bodies, wheres growing bodies may have particular vulnerability as well.
What are the signs of an overuse injury? An athlete may feel:
- Inflammation or tenderness
- Unable to participate at the level they once were
- Ineffective in their position or role on a team
These symptoms may intensify while a person is playing sports, even to the point at which they feel constant pain. Children may fail to report injuries in effort to appease a parent, guardian or coach, so look for signs your loved one is gritting their teeth through a painful injury.
What are common misconceptions about overuse injuries?
You may think that you or your child is immune to overuse injuries, even though you may be at risk. A misconception that many people have regarding repetitive strain injuries is that participating in more than one sport makes them immune.
Participating in multiple sports and athletic activities throughout the year can keep someone fit and healthy, but only if your regimen includes variety. Keeping some activities recreational versus competitive can help. Athletes should also take at least one full season off of a particular sport each year to allow their bodies to rest.
Taking other precautions can help: Warm up and properly stretch before practice and competitive events, take a rest day each week and vary drills or activities in each practice to avoid repetition. If you're starting a brand new activity or have plans to ramp up your physical regimen, talk to a orthopedic expert or trained professional about how to go about it safely.
What does diagnosis, treatment and recovery look like?
Overuse injuries can often be diagnosed through radiographic imaging and a discussion. Your doctor will likely ask what sports and activities you participate in and how often you are participating. They will also conduct a physical exam.
A person's level of pain and inability to participate at an effective level are what typically determine what period of rest and whether physical therapy may be needed.
Your orthopedic specialists should help keep you or your child engaged, allowing appropriate restricted activities with your team or club. Because sports are part of the identity of many young athletes, an injury can also become a psychological issue as well. Allowing them to continue to engage on an appropriate level helps with the recovery and return to full sport.
Recovery time will depend on the injury and treatment needed, as well as compliance with the treatment regimen. Your doctor should help you or your child ramp back up to full participation safely, as well as help you prepare to prevent re-injury moving ahead.