Overuse injuries are extremely common and will happen to most people at some time or other. These injuries develop from repetitive motions and often arise in areas of the body with large muscle groups, like the hamstrings and traps, and around major joints like the knee, shoulder and elbow.
Typically, patients come into the office once they begin experiencing pain from an overuse injury. But pain is generally the last symptom to arise.
What else is happening in your body before the pain sets in?
Many overuse injuries are rooted in muscle imbalances when one muscle group is stronger and overcompensates for another muscle group. This imbalance leads to disproportionate wear on the muscles and joints, resulting in fatigue in the affected area.
Fatigue from a developing overuse injury is distinct from the general tiredness you may feel after physical activity. It disproportionately affects one or more areas of the body versus others and may linger for days.
In response to muscle imbalances and resulting fatigue, other areas of the body begin to compensate. For example, if your glute muscles are fatigued or underdeveloped, you may overwork your hamstrings to get the job done. This compensation could lead to tight hamstrings, hamstring strains and even low back pain.
If you play sports or perform physical activities, you’ve likely experienced some form of muscle compensation, especially individuals who run or practice repetitive motions like rowing. This article from running brand Fleet Feet explains compensation patterns and symptoms to look out for.
Pain is the overuse injury symptom we all know too well. Once you experience pain, it’s critical to adjust your routine so that your body can heal properly. With adequate rest and proper treatment, most overuse injuries will heal just fine.
However, left untreated, overuse injuries can lead to chronic muscle imbalances, permanent cartilage damage and even stress fractures. If the pain is persistent, sharp or worsens over time, schedule an appointment with a specialist.
Bryan M. Saltzman, MD, is a fellowship-trained sports medicine and shoulder & elbow surgeon specializing in adolescent & adult sports medicine, cartilage restoration, knee and shoulder & elbow. He practices at OrthoCarolina's Cartilage Restoration Institute, Sports Medicine Center and University office.