Overuse injuries are exactly what they sound like; repetitive action that degrades motor function over time causing muscles, bones, joints and tendons to become overused and injured. Any fitness nut, athlete, spin addict, weekend warrior, or marathon junkie can attest to the perils of overuse injuries. It makes your favorite activities a painstaking hellscape that seems unavoidable, due to one’s inability or reluctance to stop. However, your body needs rest and recovery relative to the intensity of the activity. If you ignore this, you are stifling an important internal process of your body.
Everybody has a built-in operation called the internal remodeling process. It has to do with the breakdown of tissue through activity and the subsequent rebuilding of that tissue through rest and recovery. If that balance is not maintained then your bones, tendons, joints, and muscles start to break down. We see this issue a lot with adults, but we’re beginning to see it at alarmingly high rate in youth athletes between the ages of 10-18. (Scroll to the end of this post to read two client stories.)
So why is this happening?
Sport specialization has become more popular in the past 20 years, and we’re seeing more kids becoming single sport athletes to hone their skills in one sport. The thought process behind this is that with more emphasis on sport specific competition this athlete could one day perform at a collegiate, Olympic, or professional level. Sport specialization, however, is entirely misguided in thinking a child, or anyone for that matter, can do the same thing, at the same intensity, for the same amount of time almost every day for a year. You are creating a system where only the resilient survive, and even they don’t move like they’re supposed to. Not even the best athletes in the world train at that intensity, for that amount of time, with the same activity. They do cross training (athletic training in sports other than the athlete’s usual sport.) like yoga, running, swimming, biking, in order to take pressure off of their bones, muscles, joints, and tendons that have been overused during their season. They also have a minimum 3-5 month off season to recuperate, get their strength back, and give their bodies a chance to recover. So why are we training our kids opposite to the professionals they’re aspiring to be?
With the goal of performing at higher levels of play, there is a precedent on skill development and strengthening with considerably less regard to rest and recovery. Skill and strength work are extremely important for honing motor development and creating muscle adaptation within the athlete. Having said that, the period where actual strength is formed is during recovery when muscle tissue is being rebuilt. Yet the focus is on developing skills that are utterly useless without a functional body, and the amount of micro-trauma we’re creating makes functionality impossible. As we continue to overuse our muscles, they become weak and unable to fire correctly which results in injury. Even if the overused areas don’t injure you right away, the lack of function from these areas will cause compensatory movement, which will then create injury. The old adage “Kids are young, they bounce back” is only true for so long. Rubber bands can be stretched and stretched while still keeping a level of elasticity. Until it snaps. Then it doesn’t matter how much tape or stapling you do to put it back together, it will never be the same as it was before.
There are many ways to prevent overuse injuries, the best way is to make sure competition readiness never takes priority over proper rest and recovery. This means limiting weekly and annual participation, as well as limiting sport specific movements such as pitching, kicking, or running. Getting a trainer and a seasoned coach to monitor the athlete through adolescent growth to limit negative adaptations like diminished bone mineral density, improper growth patterns, and weakness of growth cartilage is also a good idea. A good trainer can help the athlete avoid over training and overuse injuries through periodized training programs (progressive training that has loading and de-loading phases to limit over stressing the body prior to competition). Good coaching will also stress proper training techniques such as proper duration, intensity and frequency of sessions. Again, this comes from seasoned coach that can assist with the progression of training and technique rather than arbitrary skill development.
3 Ways LYMBR aids in overuse recovery and injury prevention:
We perform active stretching in order to return function, create balance, and increase active range of motion to your muscles and joints. LYMBR stretch therapists can stretch damaged connective tissues, draw out inflammation, lactic acid, fill muscles with oxygenated blood, and return active range of motion to your joint, which will limit compensation and speed up recovery.
LYMBR therapists can also recommend some recovery modalities that you can do at home to further your efforts such as stretches to help maintain the work done in the studio, and the use of heat and ice.
As all LYMBR staff are certified personal trainers, we can also recommend some corrective exercises to strengthen weak or under-utilized muscles, as well as speak to proper technique when it comes to exercise. Our new Strengthening Protocols can also aid in recovery as many have a corrective nature to them.
One client is a 13-year-old female who participated in lacrosse and swimming. This particular athlete did both activities 5 days a week with a scarce amount of time being spent on rest and recovery. Her mother told us that her swimming coach was noticing limitations in her shoulder mobility, she was unable to touch her toes, and experienced violent ankle pain during and after lacrosse to the point where they were planning on going in for surgery. We did three assessments to see where we needed to focus our attention. I noticed from her postural assessment that her shoulders were rounded forward and her hands were positioned in front of her body rather than the side. Her pelvic assessment showed a very tilted pelvis that made it so one leg was longer than the other. Her walking assessment showed an inability to plantar flex the foot, making her hamstrings do all the work in creating forward momentum. After 30 minutes of stretching her feet, ankles, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, lower and mid back, she was able to extend her shoulders in almost perfect range of motion. She had no foot or ankle pain and was able to touch her palms to the floor. Her and her mother were ecstatic, and from then on, she saw me twice a week, every week, for an hour each session. She was able to continue both sports and was able to perform them both with maximal effort and minimal pain. She never went to surgery for her feet, and to this day does not experience any ankle or foot pain. She progressed and learned so much in her time here that she only comes in on a maintenance basis. Once or twice every two months with periodic checks. This athlete is a perfect example of why recovery and rest are so important. She went from almost having to quit both sports and undergo invasive surgery, to being able to participate and excel in her two favorite activities.
Another athlete is a 16-year-old football player who was experiencing pain and cramping in his calves during and after practice regardless of how much water he drank. This was limiting his ability to sprint and be explosive which was impacting his lifting and performance in practice and games. During his walking assessment I noticed that he was very flat footed and was unable to flex his ankle. We began working on his ankle, foot, and toe mobility as well as targeting his hamstrings and glutes. As he continued coming once a week for an hour and progressed through more difficult at home stretches, he was able to go through practices and games with no calf cramping or pain. He was able to add 50 pounds to his squat, shaved half a second off his 40-yard dash, and starts on his JV team. He now only comes twice a month for maintenance purposes and continues to use the stretches I’ve given him at home. This athlete put the same amount of effort into his recovery as he did his practice, and for that reason was able to perform at an optimal level. By eliminating pain and cramping in his calf, he was able to detach from the distractions of his physical body and focus on becoming better at the sport he loves.
If you have any questions about youth athletics in regard to movement, performance, relaxation, or recovery, please do not hesitate to seek us out. We want to make sure that every athlete can enjoy their sport, injury-free, with their most functional body.
Written by, Conner Fritchley. Conner is a Stretch Therapist in our Darien studio.