Repetitive Motion Injuries

Repetitive motion injuries result from overuse and are most common in athletes who over train. Cross-training and proper rest are some ways to prevent these injuries.

What are some common names for certain repetitive movement injuries?

Well, the most common names for these types of injuries are things like tendinitis. Now remember muscles are attached to the bone by a tendon and when this tendon gets inflamed that’s what tendinitis is. Again, another one is bursitis, when two bones come together that’s called a joint. That joint is bathed in the fluid and then wrapped in a sap called a bursa sac. When that gets inflamed that’s called bursitis. Strangely enough a lot of times the rotator cuff injuries, that’s a buzz word that most people are familiar with, a lot of times those types of injuries are also common overuse injuries or repetitive motion injuries.

What are some of the symptoms people experience when they have a repetitive movement injury?

Dr. Ira Shapiro: Okay, most of the repetitive movement injuries are going to be in the extremities. The wrist, the elbow, the shoulder, the knee or the ankle. Most people are going to feel some sort of tenderness in the area, achiness, stiffness in there. There might be some redness or swelling, decrease amounts of range of motion. They find that they really can’t sleep on the affected side. Those are the general type of symptoms individuals are going to feel when they have an overuse injury.

Can you name some of the causes of these injuries?

Dr. Ira Shapiro: Oh sure. Well, first let’s talk about who’s likely to get injured. From the sports perspective the more serious the athlete, the more likely they’re going to have one of these overuse injuries. Why? Because they’re going to over-train. Why are they going to over-train? Because athletic improvement happens when you push the bodies. Athletes perform huge workloads, but there’s an upper limit the amount of work even the most highly conditioned body can perform. All out stress and strain to the body is only good for a couple of times a week.

What happens then, the first line of defense for the musculoskeletal system are the muscles. They’re designed to absorb and dissipate the stress put on them from the activities, but if the muscles aren’t able to do their job then the stress is also born by the ligaments due to their elastic nature. If the ligaments can’t do their job, then the stress is also going to be born by the bone. Stress, bone, that’s what a stress fracture is. Again, a repetitive or overuse injury, it’s when the destructive forces of the activity are stronger than the recuperative powers of the body.

That’s when we turn around and we get these types of injuries. It’s also important to understand why the body reacts the way it does to this repetitive stress or overuse of hard exercise. What happens in the body, there’s an alarm reaction to the stress of exercise. That causes the body to release hormones which mobilize energy. That allows the body to resist this challenge.

Over a period of time the body gets used to the stress and each time it returns it poses less of a challenge, drawing down less of your total body energy or more or less the athlete is in shape. If we add too many new challenges or we drastically increase the challenges by having you do too many repetitions over a period of time, the body starts to lose the ability to adapt, we start to draw down on our energy resources and unless we cut back that’s when we end up with these overuse-type injuries.

Now when this happens all isn’t lost. The whole idea is for the athlete to cut back. Unfortunately the tendency is to increase the frequency, increase the workload and that’s a sure way for the athlete to develop an injury. Now what happens is the way of preventing that is that that’s where the concept of cross-training came from because it’s using similar muscles in different ways. Working some muscles while others rest and not using the muscle in the same way all the time. By varying the stress that’s placed on specific muscles, we can build overall muscle strength and reduce the chance of overuse injuries while obtaining an increasing level of overall conditioning.

If someone is an athlete practicing the same sport over and over, how can they avoid a repetitive movement injury?

Dr. Ira Shapiro: Well, the best thing to do again is rest the area. Again, these are overuse injuries. Athletes now, it used to be you would play football in the fall and basketball in the wintertime and baseball in the springtime. Now athletes are playing the same sport year over, time over time all year long. That’s when these repetitive motion injuries come into play.

There is a certain point where rest is very important. You need to have the area heal. Additionally we might turn around and use a brace. We might use some ice on the area. Different types of things to help heal the soft tissues that are injured, whether it’s going to be ultrasound, muscle stim, cold laser, kinesiotape. All those different kinds of modalities help prevent these overuse injuries from happening.

What treatments are available to help with these injuries?

Dr. Ira Shapiro: Again, one way to prevent these overuse injuries which is the same movement over and over that leads to the overuse injury is in their off-season or in their time down they need to work on the weak areas to make them stronger. Overuse injuries lead to the increased possibility of there being a traumatic injury because if the knee has a problem say with the sartorius muscle which gives ability to the knee, if that muscle is overused and becomes weak, when the athlete goes to plant his foot and cut, more chance of they’re causing a traumatic injury in the knee because of the weakness of the soft tissues and muscles that are around the knee, the tendons and the ligaments.

It’s very important about in the off-season, again, we talked about those cross-training, is to build up the weak muscles in those areas so they can handle the increased stress that’s put on them by the repetitive motions during the training part and the active part of whatever season they are involved in.

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