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Overuse Injuries

Joe Fleming identifies the common lower extremities overuse injuries and how to help prevent them from occurring.

The lower extremities are made up of the knee, ankle joints, and hip, as well as the bones of the feet, legs, and thighs. In effect, the lower limb of the body is the lower extremity. The lower extremity is composed of several parts, which play significant roles as far as lower extremity injuries go. These include blood vessels, nerves, bones, joints, and muscles.

Physically active individuals, especially athletes and sports-enthusiasts, use protective gear for their lower extremities that provides support without affecting mobility. These can come in the form of a knee brace, orthotic insoles, and a well-fitting pair of shoes.

Sometimes, however, due to an active lifestyle, your body can suffer from minor injuries that tend to accumulate over time. When the rate of injuries overpowers the rate that your body heals, you may develop an overuse injury.

Understanding Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries are injuries caused by repetitive action and microtrauma to your body's tissues. This means that the factors leading to a particular overuse injury occur over a certain period and not instantaneously.

A sprained ankle, for instance, is not an overuse injury but an acute injury, since it happens instantly. More often than not, overuse injuries affect the tendons, cartilages, muscles, soft tissue compartments, bursa, nerve tissues, and bones.

The most common overuse injuries are those sustained during exercise. This is because each time you work your body while exercising, it adjusts itself by strengthening the tissues involved in the activity, which thicken and gain mass at the same time. That is the reason why you bulk up your muscles and make them stronger each time you exercise.

Nevertheless, if your body is not given time to adapt to the changes that are happening, the tissues may feel overloaded, leading to microscopic injuries. Consequently, your body responds to the injuries with inflammation of the affected tissues. When this becomes repetitive, the body cannot heal fast enough before it sustains another injury, leading to a gradually worsening trauma to the tissues.

The change from bad to worse happens over a certain period. Some examples of overuse injuries to the lower extremities sustained during exercise include:

  • A pulled muscle or muscle strain. You sustain this by over-stretching your muscles, which results in a small tear. You can manage this condition by resting, icing, and elevating the affected area, as well as by wearing a compression bandage or a knee brace.
  • Achilles tendinitis. This develops through a repetitive strain on your Achilles tendon or the large tendon that connects your calf muscles to the back of your heel. Doing calf stretches can help relieve pain. Rest and applying a cold pack to the affected area can also ease the swelling.
  • Plantar fasciitis. This occurs when the thick band of tissue at the bottom of your foot, between your heel and toes, becomes inflamed. Doing stretches, using orthotic insoles and cushioned shoes as well as resting your feet relieves painful symptoms.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome. This condition is also known as runner's knee and jumper's knee. It occurs due to repeated stress on the knee when doing long and intense physical activities such as climbing, running, and jumping.
  • Stress fractures. Bones undergo remodeling each time microtrauma occurs. This helps your bones become stronger, the more you are physically active. If your bone can no longer catch up with the rate and frequency of injuries, you can develop stress fractures.

Even the sturdiest machine gives out when overused. Hence, it is only right to surmise that the body, when pushed to its limits, can "protest", too. The body's protest comes in the form of injuries, and according to a study conducted by Little et al. (2013)[1], 41% of injuries sustained when doing exercise specifically affect the lower extremities; 32% of which were due to overuse muscle strains.

A study by Paterno et al. (2013)[2] found that the prevalence of exercise-related overuse injuries that affect the lower extremities is increasing, especially in the young and athletic population. To determine the possibility of whether you have developed an overuse injury, you will need to watch out for swelling, redness, and warmth of the area in question. Another sign is when the injured body part starts exhibiting poor performance and impaired functionality.

It might do you well to take note of the following in case there is a nagging doubt in your mind that you may be suffering from an overuse injury:

  • Does the discomfort go away during warm-up but come back after you exercise?
  • Does the discomfort get worse while you are exercising?
  • Do you feel discomfort or pain even when you are not exercising?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, consult with your doctor regarding the condition and see if continuing your physical activities or training is still advisable, especially if you are an athlete. It would be best if you never ignore the earliest signs of overuse injuries of you might risk aggravating your condition.

Ways to Prevent Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries can be prevented, and their effects mitigated through the following tips:

  • Warm-up exercises. Dynamic warm-ups prepare your body for intense physical activity by boosting your heart rate and conditioning your bones, muscles, and other connective tissues.
  • Strength exercises. A stronger body is less prone to injuries. However, to achieve this, you need to subject your body to strength exercises that gradually increase in intensity as you go along.
  • Water and electrolytes. Your muscles are mostly composed of water. When you do intense physical training, especially outdoors, you lose water through sweating and breathing. Dehydration can make your muscles prone to tears and injuries.
  • Protein-rich foods. Protein is a key ingredient in tissue repair. Refuelling with protein after a workout or game is a must.


The basic concept for the prevention of overuse injuries is listening to your body. Your body is excellent about giving you cues when you need to take a break from your workout or physical activity.


  1. LITTLE, R. et al. (2013) A 12-month incidence of exercise-related injuries in previously sedentary community-dwelling older adults following an exercise intervention, BMJ Open, 3(6)
  2. PATERNO, M. et al. (2013) Prevention of Overuse Sports Injuries in the Young Athlete, Orthop Clin North Am., 44(4), p. 553-564

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • FLEMING, J. (2017) Overuse Injuries [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Joe Fleming is the President at Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle, he enjoys sharing and expressing his passion through writing. Working to motivate others and defeat ageing stereotypes, Joe uses his writing to help all people overcome the obstacles of life. Covering topics that range from physical health, wellness, and ageing to social, news, and inspirational pieces ... the goal is to help others "rebel against age".