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Wear and Tear Injuries, Also Known as Repetitive- use Injuries, are Increasing in Adults

By Cheri Hinshelwood

Article originally appeared in Thrive magazine

This may be the first time in history we are seeing people in their 70s continue to be avid runners and athletes,” said Kenneth R. Morse, M.D., orthopedic surgeon, St. Joseph Healthcare.

People are enjoying their favorite activities more frequently and sticking with them later in life, which is leading to overusing certain body parts and more wear and tear injuries. This is especially true for single- sport athletes who do not allow their bodies to heal between seasons. These athletes are more prone to all types of injuries, no matter their age.

“There’s certainly a matter of nature and nurture with wear and tear injuries,” said Dr. Morse. “People are born with cartilage or ligament characteristics that are biologically determined, and if traumatic or repetitive- use injuries come into play, that can lead to increased joint damage.”

These injuries happen over time. Constant stress or strain placed on certain parts of our body — normally tendons, joints and muscles — can lead to arthritis, inflammation of bursae or tendons or tears to connective tissue or muscle.

“The damage can begin immediately,” Dr. Morse explained. “It’s just a matter of when you begin feeling the symptoms.”

Other factors like smoking, being overweight or playing a single sport are key contributors. Being overweight, for example, puts a significant strain on your knees.

For bone and cartilage to remain healthy joints, they must have the proper nutrition, and smoking deprives all tissue of needed oxygen. For this reason, smokers are 1.5 times more likely to suffer overuse injuries, such as bursitis or tendonitis, than nonsmokers.

While many wear and tear injuries are associated with sports like running, tennis, golf or basketball, repeating certain movements while at work can also bring about this kind of injury. Simple everyday motions like typing, standing for long hours on hard surfaces or lifting boxes overhead can lead to joint injuries.

One of the most common wear and tear knee injuries is a meniscus tear. Wearing down the meniscus over time is part of degenerative arthritis that may affect the rest of your knee.

“Meniscus tears can occur with little trauma,” said Dr. Morse. “People may notice their knee suddenly becomes wobbly or gives way without warning or simply has pain with twisting or turning.”

Ways to Avoid Overuse Injuries

Some of the best ways to avoid injury is to work smarter. Start slowly when engaging in a new physical activity and warm up your muscles, tendons and joints each time. Vary your workout activities to include lower- impact activities such as swimming, biking, walking or kayaking. Activities with less pounding are easier on your bones, joints and connective tissues. If you do enjoy running or basketball, consider varying your surface. For example, runners can find ergonomic tracks with more bounce built in and invest   in quality running shoes. Finally, listen to your body’s aches and pains, maintain a healthy weight and stop smoking to improve stresses on your joints.

If you do suffer chronic aches and pains, consider treating with RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation of the injury. If pain persists, see your provider.

Signs of Overuse Injuries

  • Persistent inflammation
  • Pain or swelling in the joint
  • Snapping and popping, tingling or numbness
  • Loss of motion
  • Aching pain or discomfort consistently after an activity
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