Tennis elbow, runner’s knee, swimmer’s shoulder, pitching elbow — these are all repetitive use injuries that are common to certain sports, but certainly not inevitable outcomes if you take a few preventive measures.
As a sports medicine specialist, board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. William Schell wants to restore your health after a sports injury, but also believes that prevention is the best course of action.
While there’s no surefire way to protect yourself against all sports injuries, especially acute ones, the opposite is quite true of repetitive strain injuries.
Behind repetitive strain injuries
You may have noticed that we use two names — repetitive strain and repetitive use — to describe these types of injuries (they can also be called overuse injuries). However we label them, these injuries develop after repeated strain or use of certain soft tissues, which can include your:
- Bursae sacs
- Cartilage, including growth plates in adolescents
With repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), these soft tissues can be weakened and/or damaged because of tiny tears that develop in the tissue, overstretching of the tissues, or inflammation around the tissues.
RSIs develop gradually, and they can become progressively worse, which makes early intervention (or, better yet, prevention) key.
Preventing repetitive use injuries
The first step you can take toward preventing RSIs is to prevent certain connective tissues from carrying the bulk of the work. One of the best ways to avoid straining a certain tissue is to ensure that all of the tissues in the area enjoy ample strength and flexibility so that they can spread out the workload more evenly.
For example, if you enjoy playing tennis, spending some time at the gym working on strengthening your shoulders and elbows is time well spent. This same concept applies to runners — if you want to avoid a knee injury like runner’s knee, you’d do well to ensure that your quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles are pulling their share of the weight and pressure.
Next, before and after you engage in your sport of choice, spend some time warming up and cooling down with gentle stretching exercises, especially in those areas that work hard.
Another great technique for avoiding repetitive use injuries is to come see us so we can discuss your activity and the steps you can take to avoid injury. Sometimes, a simple change in your stance, gear, or grip can make all the difference in helping to avoid overstraining your soft tissues.
Lastly, and this is an important one, listen to your body. If your shoulder feels achy after playing ball or your elbow is sore after a round of golf, this is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. At the first signs of discomfort, we urge you to give your body a rest.
If you ignore this message, you run the risk of incurring far greater damage, which may require a much longer timeout and even surgery.
If you have more questions about preventing sports-related repetitive use injuries, please contact the practice of William Schell, MD, at our New York City office, located in Columbus Circle on the Upper West Side.