As an orthopedic surgeon, I see two main types of injuries in adults who play sports or exercise regularly. There are traumatic injuries, where a specific event occurs to break a bone or tear a ligament. You might land awkwardly or accidentally collide with another player. To a certain extent, there is little that we can do to prevent them. Then there is an overuse injury.
With every repetitive motion – steps while running, revolutions of the shoulder with baseball pitches or tennis serves, rotations of the lower back with golf swings – you place microscopic stresses on parts of your body. The stresses aren’t great enough to cause injury by themselves, and with rest they heal on their own.
If you keep doing those motions over and over without enough rest, those stresses can accumulate and cause an injury. It could be a stress fracture of a bone, tendinitis around the knee or shoulder or a number of other musculoskeletal injuries.
Tips to prevent an overuse injury
Fortunately we can mostly prevent overuse injuries. Here are three quick suggestions to keep your bones and joints healthy.
Fix your technique.
Even with perfect technique, performing a repetitive motion over and over places tremendous demands on one or two parts of your body. If your technique is flawed, you’ll transfer those forces to places where they shouldn’t be. Work with a coach or trainer to improve the mechanics of your tennis serve or golf swing before you get hurt.
Rest the affected parts of your body.
Give your bones and joints time to recover from the microscopic stresses of your training. For example, you might love to run, but training every day without a break places too much stress on the bones in your lower legs over time. Instead, do some other form of exercise one or two days a week, like swimming or cycling, that gives you a workout but doesn’t place repetitive impact on your legs.
Take a break if you start having pain.
If you notice shoulder pain with tennis or knee pain in a boot camp, and it seems to be getting worse, take a few days off and watch for it to resolve. If the pain is due to overuse, a few days of rest or modifying your training may be enough to get better. If you still have pain when you return to play or train, you might want to see a doctor. Often you can learn the extent of your injury and take some simple steps to recover before you develop a more serious problem.