The term "overuse injury" didn't exist until about 10 years ago. With the fitness boom and the proliferation of health clubs and gyms, more and more people are exercising -- and overexercising.
Today, activities that stress repetitive movements, such as aerobics, running, swimming and cycling, are very popular.
Unfortunately, these are the types of fitness pursuits that tend to cause overuse injuries. The body parts most often affected are the legs, shoulders and elbows.
There are many reasons you might develop an overuse injury. Most often, inexperience and ignorance are the major culprits.
Although seasoned athletes are prone to overuse injuries as well, pTC newcomers to fitness often find themselves trying to do too much too soon and end up hurting themselves.
*Inadequate conditioning. When you increase your workload before you are ready to progress, you can overstress your body. For instance, don't increase weight in your lifting program before you can easily lift the weight you've been using.
*Improper technique. You don't have to be an exercise physiologist to notice how people differ in their aptitudes for physical activities. Take running, for example. Some runners seem to float along in a natural and easy way, while others struggle awkwardly. If you are a struggler, learn proper form and technique.
*Genetic configuration of your body. The way you are built will affect your athletic performance. If you are knock-kneed with wide hips and you take up running, you could develop problems in your knees.
If you have flat feet, you will very likely develop pain in your back, knees, Achilles tendons or the soles of your feet.
*Improper equipment. The way your sports equipment fits can set you up for injury. This includes shoes that are too heavy or too stiff or flimsy, without adequate cushioning or arch and heel support.
*Type of exercise. Running is more likely to cause overuse injuries of the lower extremities and the back than other sports. And tennis players are particularly susceptible to shoulder and elbow pain.
Almost any muscle, bone, tendon or joint in your body can become inflamed if you use it improperly and too often. Here is a list of some of the more common overuse injuries.
*Shin splints is a general term for pain in the front part of the lower leg. The muscles that flex your ankles become sore and may tear away slightly from the bone.
This condition most often results from a combination of weak skin muscles and too-rapid progress in an exercise program. Other factors may include tight Achilles tendons, running on a hard surface or inadequate cushioning in the shoes.
*Pain on the inner border of the shinbone, just above the ankle, is usually caused by stretching of the posterior tibial muscle. To prevent this injury, or to cure it early, use shoe inserts that provide extra arch support. You can also do heel raises or other exercises to strengthen the posterior tibial muscle.
*Compartment syndrome is a serious condition caused by inflammation of the muscles on the front or the outside of the shin.
The muscles swell inside a fibrous sheath and put pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the foot and ankle. This condition must be treated immediately, sometimes with surgery.
Ronald B. Mackenzie, M.D., M.P.H., is a specialist in preventive and sports medicine and past director of Centinela Hospital's Fitness Institute in Culver City, Calif.