We’ve all heard that “more is better,” and we often take that approach in our exercise programs. If a little bit of training is good, then hours spent in the weight room must be great!
True, you have to reach certain levels of volume and intensity to realize benefits from your training program. But too much extra work can lead to aches and pains. Some of the aches are okay—like muscle soreness after a killer workout. But the pain can mean you’re injured.
Injuries caused by overuse can be avoided with a structured program. Also, by understanding the source of your pain, you can often work around an injury, continue to train and get back to your old self—or hopefully a smarter version!
The following are common overuse injuries, with some quick ideas on how to treat the problem and prevent it from reoccurring.
Tender Knee Joint
If you are a runner or heavy lifter, you may experience a tender spot right below the knee. In most cases, the condition is patellar tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendon that runs over the knee. Constant stress and strain on the tendon—from adding extra miles or running or lifting with bad form—makes it irritated and inflamed.
The key to recovery is to engage in activities that don’t aggravate the tendon, such as swimming, riding a bike or forms of resistance training that take the load off the knee joint. To hasten recovery, ice the knee after activity. If the problem lingers longer than two weeks, check with your doctor about anti-inflammatory medication.
The pain in your shoulder gets worse when you raise your arm, and you fear you’ve torn a rotator cuff. This can happen, but often the pain is caused by the swelling of a tendon in the shoulder area. This condition is most common in athletes who lift their arms overhead—especially pitchers and tennis players.
If you experience this problem, avoid activities that require moving the arm above shoulder level for a few weeks. In severe cases, stay away from chest and shoulder activity altogether. After a few days, if the pain persists or increases, visit your doctor to ensure nothing is torn.
If the pain start to subside, when you get back to the gym, make sure to work the small support muscles around the shoulder joint. Try using light dumbbells or bands, and perform flexibility exercises recommended by a coach or trainer.
Pain along the front of the lower leg is called shin splints—caused by inflammation of the muscles that attach on the front part of the shins. Weak or inflexible muscles can produce pain and tenderness in that area. Runners who put in too many miles on hard or uneven surfaces often strain those muscles and experience shin splints.
Getting back to your program requires you to “take a load off”—meaning your knees. Bike, swim or do circuit training until you can get back on your feet and resume your normal level of activity. Just take it easy. You might need to cut back on the miles at first, then gradually increase your time and distance. Use the time for cross-training, and realize that constantly performing the same movements can cause problems.
Low Back Pain
Most back pain stems not from overuse of our bodies but from overuse of our lounge chairs. Back problems affect mobility, sitting, sleeping and nearly everything else.
Athletes with severe back problems should see a specialist, but most people are able to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, back pain with stretching and strength training. With tight muscles through the lower back, weak muscles in the stomach area and hours and hours of sitting at work and at home, we put constant stress on our lower backs. A stretching program that includes the back, hamstrings and hip area; core-strengthening exercises; and simply moving around more often can lead to a dramatic reduction in back pain.
When treating most overuse injuries, the key is to use common sense. More isn’t always better. Find a happy balance between working out and wearing your body out.