Keeping Overuse Injuries at Bay this Summer

After taking it easy all winter, overdoing it can wreak havoc on your muscles and joints.

If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait for this time of the year to get back to the outdoors.

Lexi is ready to hit the trails after spending a long day at the office as my sidekick. And when the weekend comes, I spent most of the time gardening or playing tennis. But being a weekend warrior after coming out of winter hibernation can put us at risk for overuse injuries.

We tend to see our fair share of patients this time of year with overuse injuries. Most people equate overuse injuries with pushing it too hard at the gym, but the reality is that these kinds of problems can arise from doing even the simplest of tasks. Overuse injuries are almost always incurred by doing too much too quickly, by doing an activity that you are not used to, or both.

I find that overuse injuries mostly fit into these categories:

  • Back/spinal: Repetitive bending and stooping. Anything involving a forward bend with side-to-side movement, such as shoveling, stacking wood, or pulling up large weeds and shrubs. These cause major strain to the joints, muscles, and ligaments of the spine.
  • Shoulder elbow: Repetitive actions of painting, weeding, digging plants, pruning, hammering, golf or tennis. These injuries should be addressed as soon as possible as they can turn into 6-12 months of nightmares!
  • Neck: prolonged postural stress, such as painting ceilings or pruning high tree limbs.
  • Muscle “pulls”:  Generally caused by fast starts for running during athletic activities. Hamstring or calf are primary and a severe pull can again take 6 to 12 months to fully heal.

Overuse injuries are generally avoidable by taking frequent breaks and limiting your activities until you develop strength.

There are several precautions you can take to reduce your risk of overuse injuries, many of which are backed by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Warm up – loosening up your muscles before you tackle a task or workout is imperative to helping minimize the risk of injury.
  • Use proper form and proper gear – From tips to toes, make sure you’re using proper technique and equipment and are wearing the correct gloves and shoes for your chosen activity.
  • Start slow – If you’re new to working out, start with 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day. You can divide out the 30 minutes into smaller chunks of time if you can’t fit the entire half hour in one stretch.

The same goes for gardening and other household chores. If you haven’t been active in a while, limit the time in your flower beds and take short breaks throughout.

  • Gradually pick up the pace – Once you feel comfortable with your fitness level, you can change the duration and the intensity of the activity – but only in small increments. Increasing by 10 percent is a good rule of thumb.
  • Mix it up – By enjoying a variety of low-impact activities, from tennis and dog walking to pulling weeds and tackling the honey-do list, you ensure that not one particular group of muscles are overworked and have enough down-time to heal properly.  

Exercises to strengthen these areas are available at my office, and anyone is welcome to call me to discuss prevention and available treatments.

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