Chances are that if you're active, you've had an overuse injury at some point. Every type of activity comes with its own susceptibility to injury: Runners are often plagued with shin splits, plantar fasciitis, or IT band syndrome. Swimmers and racquet sports suffer from rotator cuff strains or shoulder impingement. Dedicated HIIT athletes commonly experience back or hip pain.
Overuse injuries — otherwise known as repetitive use injuries — occur as a result of damage to tissues over a period of time. As the term implies, the catalyst for overuse injuries is the overload of one area of the body that alters ideal movement patterns. In my experience, I've found that overuse injuries come from lack of stability, strength, mobility or a combination of these three components.
Stability involves the smallest and deepest muscles of the body. These muscles provide the inner framework for movement. They help with balance, control movements and protect joints from excess movement.
Strength involves the bigger muscles of the hips, back and shoulders that provide power. Flexibility and mobility are related components of movement, which form the third pillar of fitness. Flexibility refers to range of motion of muscles, while mobility refers to joints that provide levers for muscles to move.
An overload of one area of the body due to repetitive use causes a shift in the normal biomechanics as some muscles are used more than others. As these muscles are overworked, the necessary balance between our stability, strength and mobility is disrupted.
Your injury prevention program begins with incorporating these three pillars of fitness: stability, strength and mobility. By understanding the type of exercise, you'll be able to utilize programs and exercises already at your disposal.
These should be both weight-bearing and non weight-baring, and target the lower and upper extremities, and spine.
- Lower: Practices that are performed barefoot (like yoga) will challenge the small, stabilizing muscles in the foot, ankle and leg. Tools that challenge your balance (like a Bosu ball or air pads) will also strengthen the stabilizing muscles in your lower extremities.
- Upper: "Pulling" exercises (rows, fly) focus on the shoulder and mid-back stabilizing muscles. Scapular retraction exercises that require you to pull your shoulder blades back and down will also engage these muscles.
- Spine: The most commonly addressed area of the body is often the most misunderstood, and core exercises require particular attention to form in order to assure results. In my experience, Pilates reformer instructors are well trained and sticklers for proper form, a necessary requirement for core activation.
These will provide much-needed power to ares of your body that need it the most. It's important to start and build a solid foundation slowly so you don't get injured.
- If you're new to strength training, start with the weight training machines at your gym and target each major muscle group in the hips, back and shoulders. Using the machines will make sure each individual muscle gets strong before coordinating movements together with more complex exercises.
- After graduating from using the machines, shift your attention to basic movements with just body weight that target the bigger muscle groups. Body weight squats, lunges and deadlifts are a great place to start. Boot camp and other HIIT programs are filled with body weight exercises that will focus on strength training.
- Consider a few sessions with a personal trainer before tackling the weight rack. Proper technique is vital to serious strength training routines and spending time with a high quality trainer will be a great investment.
Flexibility & Mobility Exercises
These are the easiest to incorporate and can be the most important.
- Committing to a yoga class twice a week can dramatically improve both the flexibility of your muscles and mobility of your joints.
- Incorporating tools such as foam rollers and other self-massage techniques will help to heal overworked muscles, improving flexibility in the process.
Your well-balanced exercise routine should address each of the three pillars of fitness, building strength more safely on a stable, flexible and mobile foundation. You can’t eliminate injuries completely, but a well-rounded program of equal focus on stability, strength and mobility will help minimize the risk.
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