STEP 3: Understand The Cause

After you’ve gone through the logic of Step 2 (understanding type and severity of injury), you’re halfway to understanding what caused it.

We use a simple checklist for this step.

Acute vs. Overuse Injury: Simple Diagnostic List

  1. Was the injury the result of a dramatic event? (fall, dive, stretching outside of normal range of motion, performing explosive movement, performing heavy weight-bearing movement)
  2. Do you have a history of injury or surgery at the injury site?
  3. Did the injury occur after performing a new exercise you are not well-trained in?
  4. Have you experienced pain, discomfort, tingling, or weakness in the injury site prior to the injury?
  5. Did the injury slowly progress, starting with minor discomfort?

If you answered Yes to any of questions 1-3, you’re likely dealing with an acute injury.

If you answered Yes to questions 4 or 5 (but not to questions 1-3), you’re likely dealing with an overuse injury.

This isn’t an exact science, so you have to use some common sense here.

People typically know if they injured themselves suddenly (acute). Likewise, if you think back — you should be able to recall if pain or movement problems occurred gradually (overuse). The reason you want to understand the cause of the injury is so you don’t make it worse. And so you don’t end up doing it again.

Like in my case of developing tendinosis in both elbows, there was a multitude of factors. It took me weeks to put everything together. But now that I know each misstep I made, I know exactly how to prevent it from occurring again.

The important thing here is not to rush to a conclusion. Get an idea of what movements, events, imbalances, and weaknesses could have led to the injury.

Then think about other lifestyle factors (like sitting at a desk all day which constricts movement and blood flow). And continue seeking to understand all the factors that caused your injury throughout the rehab process.

This leads us to Step 4: Develop a rehabilitation plan.

Stay tuned for Steps 4-5 of The Ultimate 5-Step Recovery Guide.

About Author:

Scott Hogan is an NCCA accredited Certified Personal Trainer (American Council on Exercise) and Certified Orthopedic Exercise Specialist. His specialties include corrective exercise programming and pain-free movement. Scott is the founder of, an online resource for therapeutic sports nutrition supplements. Learn more about the author at