4.AUG.2017 7 MIN READ | 7 MIN READ

Overuse injuries are injuries caused by repeated and excessive stress on your muscles, bones, ligaments or tendons over time.

The human body has an amazing ability to adapt to physical stress from exercise and activity. This is due to a process known as adaptation and remodelling, which is the breakdown and build-up of muscle, tendon, bone and ligament tissue. Your fitness improves with exercise due to the healthy build-up of tissue. However, if the breakdown occurs more rapidly than the build-up, an overuse injury occurs.

Some common overuse injuries include tennis elbow, shin splints, and injuries to the knee tendon and Achilles tendon. Overuse injuries occur more often than acute injuries but are, unfortunately, often overlooked as symptoms develop over time.

Why do overuse injuries occur?


Otherwise known as biting off more than you can chew, overexertion occurs when you push your body past its ability to heal. When you take on too much physical activity too quickly, you can hurt yourself. Pushing too hard and too soon compromises your body’s ability to bounce back.

Bad form

Also referred to as training errors, bad form is when you are doing a sport or activity wrongly. Training errors increase if you are rapidly accelerating the intensity, duration, or frequency of the activityOther errors include the using the wrong set of equipment, especially shoes, and applying the wrong techniques for certain moves.

There are many other possible reasons why overuse injuries occur, but here are 6 common exercise mistakes that can lead to injury, and how to avoid them.

Using improper technique and gear

Proper technique is critical. An overuse injury is often caused by doing a sport or activity wrongly.

Whether you’re starting a new activity or you’ve been playing a sport for a long time without formal coaching, consider taking lessons. Learning to use the correct technique can do wonders to prevent overuse injuries. Coupled with the right technique, you should also make sure you are using the right equipment, especially for racquet sports.

Additionally, always opt for well-maintained shoes. When your shoes wear down, you lose proper support and that can contribute to overuse injuries. You should aim to replace your shoes at least twice a year if you work out regularly.

Lack of preparation

Going for a health check-up before starting a new sport or participating in a sports event is an important yet oft-neglected safety measure. To make sure you’re ready to safely begin a sport, you should have a pre-participation physical evaluation. You may have muscular imbalances or medical conditions that can make you more predisposed to developing an overuse injury.

Once you get cleared to start a sport or physical activity, the one rule you should never forget is to warm up and cool down before and after every activity. This is the one all-important step athletes tend to underestimate or overlook. A dynamic stretching warm-up of 5 – 10 minutes and a static stretching routine for 5 – 10 minutes at the end of the activity will do you wonders in avoiding injuries.

Not spreading out your exercise

If you’re starting a new fitness programme or sport, be careful not to turn into a weekend warrior where you compress your physical activity for the week into 2 days. That can easily lead to overuse injuries. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, and if you don’t have the time for that sort of commitment, you can also opt to break it into three 10-minute blocks.

While exercising a healthy amount helps boost immunity, overdoing it breaks down your immune system. Pace yourself to give your muscles time to recover from the physical stress and avoid overexertion.

Increasing your workout intensity too much too soon

Pushing yourself too hard and too soon strains your body past its capacity to repair and rebuild tissue fast enough, leading to an overuse injury. The 10% rule is very helpful in determining how to take things to the ‘next level’. In general, you should not increase your training programme or workout intensity more than 10% per week. This rule applies to increasing pace or mileage for walkers and runners, as well as to the amount of weight added in strength training.

Easing into your fitness routine will help you continue to stay active for years to come, so don’t try to do too much too soon. Beginners should aim for at least 2 and a half hours of moderate activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity over the course of a week.

Only sticking to one form of exercise or workout

Doing too much of the same activity can strain your body and lead to an overuse injury. If you are addicted to a specific sport, then it’s time to switch things up. Incorporate workouts to increase strength, flexibility and core stability in order to engage different muscle groups and ensure no one muscle group is overstrained.

Neglecting to rest

Finally, the one thing athletes forget to do is to rest. It is advisable to take at least 1 day off per week or 3 months off per year from organised activity to recover physically and mentally.

Learn to listen to your body. Pain, for example, can be both a good and bad thing. It can mean you’ve successfully engaged the muscles you’ve set out to train, or it can mean you’ve overworked yourself.

Remember, your goal should be to become a well-rounded athlete who can enjoy regular activity for a lifetime. Don’t allow an overuse injury to set you back.

Article reviewed by Dr David Su, orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital

Su Hsien Ching David
Orthopaedic Surgeon
Mount Elizabeth Hospital

Dr David Su is a orthopaedic surgeon practising at Gleneagles Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Hospitals, Singapore. Apart from general orthopaedic surgery, his special interests are foot and ankle deformity correction, sports injuries, cartilage regeneration and complex lower limb trauma.