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Chronic Aches and Pains

Overuse injuries include repetitive strain or cumulative trauma injuries


Updated August 14, 2012

Most injuries can be categorized as either:
  • Traumatic (Acute) Injuries
  • Overuse (Chronic)Injuries

Acute pain and injury is usually the result of a specific impact or traumatic event. Chronic aches and pain, on the other hand, often have subtle or vague symptoms that develop slowly and are long-lasting. What begins as a small, nagging ache or pain can grow into a debilitating injury if it isn't recognized and treated early.

Chronic pain is often caused by repetitive trauma and overuse. Overuse injuries are common in athletes who play sports and perform repetitive movements. The stress and trauma to soft tissues can become irritated if not allowed enough time to heal fully. These injuries are also called sometimes called cumulative trauma, or repetitive stress injuries.

Examples of chronic pain and injuries include:

Many sports injuries that cause subtle pain are overuse injuries. They often occur at the start of a new exercise routine (too much, too soon), or in long-time exercisers who don't allow for enough rest and recovery.

The main factors in the development of overuse pain and injury include:

Doing Too Much, Too Soon
It’s important to start slow and increase your training time and intensity over time. Following the Ten Percent Rule may help you in avoid an overuse injuries.

Overtraining Syndrome
Some athletes mistakenly think more exercise is better, and they fail to get adequate rest. This can lead to a chronic, overuse injury. This is also common in advanced exercisers who suddenly increase their time or intensity in an abrupt manner (often while training for an event).

Returning from Injury Too Soon
Many athletes try to come back from an injury too quickly. They frequently develop a secondary overuse injury while trying to make up for lost time.

Using Poor Technique
Most people need some professional coaching at the beginning of a new sport to learn the fundamentals and develop good habits. Keep in mind that we are all unique and some movements may be better-suited to your abilities or biomechanics. An instructor can help you modify exercises to fit your unique needs.

Golfers tend to have overuse injuries due to poor golf swing mechanics. Working with a coach, personal trainer or therapist can help you avoid these errors.

Doing Only One Type of Exercise
Doing the same exercise day after day is another way to end up with an overuse injury. Stressing the same muscle groups and performing the same movement patterns repeatedly can put a tremendous amount of strain on muscles, tendons and ligaments, causing irritation, inflammation and even stress fractures. Even if you successfully avoid an overuse injury, you may end up with muscle imbalance, weakness, tightness and alignment problems. To avoid these problems, vary your exercise training routine. Do a variety of different types of exercise and cross train.

Wearing the Wrong Shoes
Wearing the right shoe is important, especially for runners. shoe inserts or insoles are sometimes helpful as is knowing when to replace your running shoes.

Running Surface
The terrain you run on can also set you up for injuries.

Using the Wrong Equipment
Poorly fitting bicycles, golf clubs, tennis rackets, etc. can lead to stress on the muscles and joints and increase injury risk.

Treating Overuse Injuries

Treating overuse injuries requires resting the stressed tissues. Reducing the intensity, duration or frequency of the exercise will sometimes be all the treatment required for fast relief.

Icing the injury can also help reduce inflammation and pain. For more serious overuse injuries, physical therapy, over-the-counter medications, and complete rest may be necessary.

Preventing Overuse Injuries
To prevent the return of overuse injuries, athletes should maintain a training schedule that includes varied intensity and duration as well as type of activity. Getting a proper warm up and cross training is also helpful.

Also See
How to Recognize Unsafe or Dangerous Exercises


ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 7th Edition 2005.

2008 American Council on Exercise, Exercise Safety Guidelines

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