Preventing Overuse Injuries: Facts and Fallacies
Overuse injuries occur when tissues are stressed above their load tolerance set point for an extended period of time. What most people don’t realize is that we can actively increase this load tolerance set point and reduce chronic stressors simply by adjusting how and when we exercise.
Virtually all fitness programs are centered around training muscles, while joints are an afterthought. New research shows this approach is short-sighted. By neglecting your joints, overuse injuries are a virtual certainty—even if you stay in shape.
One of the main problems is the sheer amount of myths and fallacies surrounding overuse injuries.
By gaining a deeper understanding of how our joint systems adapt and degrade depending on exercise stimulus, you can prevent overuse injuries like tendinitis and stress fractures from occurring in the first place.
Let’s start by testing your knowledge. Can you spot the facts and fallacies below?
Fact or Fallacy #1:
After a few months of most commercial gyms being shutdown during the COVID-19 outbreak, the incidence of overuse injuries dropped in the U.S.
Fallacy. Overuse injuries skyrocketed a few months into the COVID-19 outbreak as gyms reopened and organized sports restarted regular competitions. You might think that taking it easy for a few months would encourage joint repair and prevent overuse injuries, but the opposite happened. There are two primary reasons for this: 1) athletes and exercise goers lost some of their joint integrity and resilience without regular training sessions, and 2) most people jumped right back into full-throttle training without a ramp-up period. This transition from sedentary to high-frequency training stresses connective tissue structures beyond what they are used to without the necessary period of adaptation.
According to Dr. Nicole Belkin, chief of orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital, overuse injuries increased in nearly every age group:
“We’ve seen an awful lot of stress fractures, shin splints, and shoulder and elbow injuries because of the lack of a gradual return to sports, less practice before the season, and overzealous practice schedules due to condensed preparation.”
Fact or Fallacy #2:
Tendons heal faster than muscles.
Fallacy. In a journal article titled “The Pathogenesis of Tendinopathy: Balancing the Response to Loading,” Magnusson and colleagues showed that collagen rebuilding in response to mechanical loading stays elevated for up to three days. Muscle repair happens much faster, with muscle protein synthesis rates returning to baseline levels within 36 hours after resistance training.
This difference in tissue healing rates is one of the primary causes of training-related overuse injuries. A typical bodybuilding program or endurance regimen might give muscles ample time to recover, but leave tendons and ligaments behind.
Fact or Fallacy #3:
Slow resistance training can help prevent tendon degeneration.
Fact. If you lift weights explosively, the connective tissues that make up your tendons tense up into a rigid sheet. And thankfully so, or your joints would disintegrate every time you moved quickly. But when you move slowly, your connective tissues act more like individual collagen fibers. This is why using slow, deliberate motions while lifting weights helps activate collagen remodeling—breaking apart old junky cross-links, increasing collagen turnover, and allowing your body to rebuild more robust connective tissue structures.
We have much more control over how our joints respond to exercise than most people realize. With the right exercises, training schedule, and recovery methods you can build strong, resilient joint systems that stand the test of time. This is the central theme of my book Built from Broken. To learn more about healing painful joints and preventing injuries with corrective exercise, visit bfb-book.com.
Bottom Line: Overuse injuries can be prevented by giving your joints the same attention and care as your muscles. And, you have much more control over your joint health and integrity than you may realize.