My biggest fear as a runner isn’t performing poorly on race day. Rather, it’s that one day an injury could stop me from even getting to the start line.
Unfortunately, injuries are part of the game for most athletes. Some are unavoidable, but training hard, combined with not allowing yourself enough recovery time, can be a recipe for overuse injuries in particular. The good news is that there are simple ways to limit your risk.
Overuse injuries are the most common type of sports injuries. They happen when a repetitive motion – like running, or swinging a tennis racket – harms bones, tendons or joints over time. Athletes are often unable to pinpoint exactly when the injury started.
Overuse injuries are so common that they’re sometimes named after the sport they’re associated with. For instance, patellofemoral pain syndrome (pain behind the kneecap) is called “runner’s knee.” Lateral or medial epicondylitis (swelling or soreness around the elbow) is often referred to as “tennis elbow” or “golfer’s elbow.” Rotator cuff tendonitis (swelling of the tendons in the shoulder) may be called “swimmer’s shoulder” or “pitcher’s shoulder.”
These are different from acute injuries, which occur as the result of a single trauma. When you have an acute injury, you usually know the exact moment it occurred. Fractures, dislocations and sprains tend to fall in this category; if you crash while biking and dislocate your shoulder, for example, that would be an acute injury.
Stay in the Game
Overuse injuries are easier to prevent than to treat. Besides, who wants to get hurt and spend weeks, months or even years on the sidelines, missing out on his or her favorite sport? Here’s how you can steer clear of sports overuse injuries:
1. Train smartly. Overuse injuries are often the result of doing too much too soon. Follow a sound training plan, and don’t add intensity or lengthen your workout sessions too quickly.
2. Mix it up. Doing the same repetitive motion day in and day out can wear on your body. Cross-training gives you the cardiovascular benefits you need to stay in shape without risking overuse injuries. If you’re a runner, for instance, supplement your runs with sessions on the best stationary exercise bike.
3. Hit the weight room. Some athlete injuries are caused by muscle imbalances. Lifting weights can help you strengthen and balance your whole body, keeping overuse injuries at bay.
4. Get loose. Poor flexibility and tight muscles can increase your injury risk. Stay loose by stretching, practicing yoga, getting massages or using a foam roller regularly.
5. Take days off. Rest days are just as important as days spent training. Time off helps muscles recover and rebuild.
6. Wear proper shoes. Athletic shoes that don’t fit well can cause injury. Get fitted for proper shoes at an athletic specialty store – it may seem like a minor inconvenience, but it will be well worth it in the long run.
7. Use good technique. Not using proper form is the leading cause of tennis elbow, for example. Research health techniques for your sport, or work with a trainer or a coach to
get tips on proper form.
8. Back off at the first sign of injury. Training when you’re hurt can cause more harm than good. At the first sign of injury, R.I.C.E.: rest, ice (apply ice for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times per day), compression (wrap the injured area with a bandage), and elevation (raise your injured body part above the level of the heart).
9. See your doctor. If you’re feeling unusual pain, don’t try to push through it on your own. A doctor can tell you whether you simply need to take things easy for a little while, or if your injury is more serious.
Your turn to share: What steps do you take to ward off injuries?