Overuse Injuries

16 June 2022

What is an overuse injury?

An overuse injury can occur in a muscle due to repetitive physical action. Micro-trauma can occur in the muscle and small problems can slowly develop into bigger issues. When the tissue begins to break down quicker than it builds up then the muscle can experience some micro-trauma.

What does an overuse injury feel like?

Symptoms can include pain, swelling and fatigue. Along with this performance can be compromised with reduced ability of activity. Extra stress can be placed on the bones, tendons and secondary muscles which can then cause imbalance with a specific muscle or muscle group, postural imbalance, and the formation of scar tissue leading to adhesions, loss of elasticity, hardness felt in the muscle and thickened fascia.

How does an overuse injury occur?

It can be a result of exercise being taken on too quickly without allowing the body adequate time to adjust to the increased level of activity. Symptoms being ignored and continuing on will contribute to the vulnerability of muscle and make it more susceptible to acute strains.

Training errors are often a cause of this where added stress is put upon the body. Increasing the speed, load, distance, intensity or frequency of training are all factors that can start to create strains, tearing, inflammation, pain and reduced range of movement. Returning to sport following an injury and overdoing it or using poor technique or poor form can lead to an overuse injury.

Occupation can also have a role to play in overuse, such as hammering or painting whereby a tradesman will repeat the same action and cause micro-trauma in the muscles. Even sitting at a desk for long periods of time can cause postural issues as the upper trapezius and posterior neck muscles are fixed due to inactivity, slowing blood flow.

Biomechanical issues such as bowlegs or flat feet, as well as misaligned body parts such as having one leg longer than the other can contribute to micro-trauma, as can being inflexible or having poor core stability. Improper and unsupportive footwear can also have such effects, along with consistent training on the same terrain, like running on hard surfaces.

Overuse injuries can often be difficult to diagnose and then treat as they will come on subtly and occur over time. It is more likely to happen in sports, particularly at the start of a new season, and develop in older people, whereby their body is not a strong as it once was but training has not been adapted to meet the body’s new needs. This will make someone more prone to injury and put undue stress on the muscles. Although, children and young adults will often suffer with micro-trauma and more complex injuries due to the repetitive nature of their physical activity. Certain medical conditions can also exacerbate overuse injuries.


Micro-trauma in the muscles can lead forward develop into more complex injuries. Calf and hamstring strains are common overuse injuries which can progress with further tearing and inflammation. Racket sports, such as tennis, use repetitive techniques which can exacerbate issues with such as tennis elbow and eventually grip can be reduced due to pain and muscle wastage. Tennis elbow can occur as a result of the repetitive nature in which the muscles in the forearms are worked. Golfers elbow can also affect the forearm due to the force and repetition of active movement in playing golf. Shin splints are common in runners where either the tibialis anterior or tibialis posterior are under repeated trauma (muscles that run alongside the shin) leaving them with an aching pain in the shin area of the lower leg due to a build-up of pressure.

How can I prevent getting an overuse injury?

Long-term these injuries, amongst other cases of repetitive micro-trauma, can develop into more complicated problems if the routine is not changed in any way. Cutting back the frequency, intensity or duration of activity can help to reduce further complexities, along with more effective pacing, warm ups and cool downs. Cross-training, simple stretches and the use of ice or anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce muscle stress and encourage better range of motion and muscle strength. Nutrition should also be considered because appetite is often suppressed after activity and therefore not enough nutrients are replenishing the body's needs.

We can provide help and assistance by reducing the symptoms of overuse injuries. We can advise on preventative measures that will still keep you fit and active and heading towards your goals.

Author: Cross Massage Therapy