Dr. Kevin Plancher
Overuse injuries occur over time from tiny traumas to the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. Common examples of overuse injuries include pitching elbow, tennis elbow, shin splints, jumperâ€™s knee, Achilles tendinitis, runnerâ€™s knee and swimmerâ€™s shoulder.
NEW YORK & GREENWICH, Conn. March 13, 2018
The old adage that â€œpractice makes perfectâ€� doesnâ€™t take into account that too much practice can actually be a bad thing when it comes to sports, especially for young athletes, according to orthopaedic surgeon Kevin D. Plancher, MD, founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.
According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, overuse injuries comprise even more than the 50% of sports injuries commonly reported because many donâ€™t result in time lost from the sport.
For young athletes especially, overuse injuries are highly common, according to Dr. Plancher. More than 44 million American children between 6 and 18 years old participate in some type of organized athletics, and the increasing competitiveness in sports at young ages means many are likely to deal with an overuse injury at some point, he says.
â€œSports injuries are often broken into two types: acute and chronic or overuse injuries,â€� explains Dr. Plancher. â€œAcute injuries result from a single traumatic event, such as a fracture or tendon rupture, while overuse injuries occur over time from tiny traumas to the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments.â€� Common examples of overuse injuries include pitching elbow, tennis elbow, shin splints, jumperâ€™s knee, Achilles tendinitis, runnerâ€™s knee and swimmerâ€™s shoulder.
Who gets overuse injuries?
If pain, fatigue, discomfort or restricted performance last for more than a few days, an overuse injury might be suspected. And while some people are simply more prone to overuse injuries because of an inherited risk, certain identifiable factors increase the chances youâ€™ll develop such an injury, Dr. Plancher says. These include:
- Age. â€œChildren and teens are at higher risk because theyâ€™re growing and maturing rapidly and/or unevenly,â€� he notes.
- Prior injuries
- Lack of awareness of symptoms: â€œSome young athletes in particular may have no idea their symptoms signal an overuse injury,â€� Dr. Plancher says.
- Intense training volume that leaves little time for rest or healing. â€œPlaying the same sport all year long, instead of just for a season, is often too much for the body, leading to tissue breakdown,â€� he says.
- Unsuitable equipment that doesnâ€™t adequately support the activity at hand, such as running or ballet or improper use of weight training machines.
How to prevent overuse injuries
Diagnosing overuse injuries usually involves a physical exam and often includes tests such as x-rays, bone scans or MRI scans to visualize affected areas. Treatment typically includes a variety of measures, including cutting back the frequency or duration of an activity; icing affected areas; and taking anti-inflammatory medications.
Dr. Plancher, a Clinical Professor in Orthopaedics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, points out that itâ€™s far wiser to prevent sports overuse injuries in the first place. How to accomplish this?
- Get a pre-participation physical exam to screen for risk factors
- Avoid specializing in one sport during childhood or early adolescence
- Report all injuries and be aware of overuse injury symptoms
- Limit the total amount of time engaging in one sports activity
- Rest adequately between practices and competitions, ideally taking at least one day off per week from organized sports
- Condition properly for your sport, including stretching and warm-up periods
â€œItâ€™s wise for athletes to take a combined 6 weeks to 3 months off per year from a specific sport, even if thatâ€™s divided through the year in month-long periods,â€� Dr. Plancher says. â€œAnd donâ€™t ramp up too quickly when a new sports season begins â€“ take it slowly and cross-train to include multiple activities. By being prudent, athletes of all ages can stop overuse injuries from happening and enjoy their sports participation even more.â€�
Kevin D. Plancher, MD, MPH, is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and the founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.