The Most Common Overuse Injuries in Sports

Practice makes perfect. No pain, no gain. Probably every athlete has heard these phrases at some point during their sports career. However, people often don’t realize just how dangerous overtraining and overuse can be to an athlete’s body. While it is imperative to train in order to improve your endurance and strength, overuse symptoms can develop gradually over time and result in serious injury.

We’ve explored the most common overuse injuries in sports below, noting their symptoms and when it’s time to consult a specialist. Dr. Steve Hamilton and the orthopaedic physicians at Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine have the expertise to spot the difference between an overuse injury easily remedied with non-surgical treatments, and more serious injuries that require surgical treatment.

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Tennis elbow is a form of tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons) that affects the tendons on the lateral (outer) side of the forearm. It is characterized by pain and tenderness in the forearm that becomes worse when gripping an object.

Signs and Symptoms of Tennis Elbow

  • Pain and tenderness on the outer side of the elbow
  • Redness and swelling of the elbow
  • Stiffness in the elbow
  • Weakness in your hands and wrists
  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers

Who Suffers from Tennis Elbow?

Tennis elbow affects up to 3% of the population, particularly men between age 35 and 50. Athletes who repetitive use their wrist and elbow (such as baseball pitchers, tennis players, and weightlifters) as well as manual laborers who frequently use their wrist and elbow (such as painters and arborists) are at significant risk of developing the condition. Even musicians can develop tennis elbow, depending on their instrument of choice.

Contrary to what its name would suggest, however, only a small number of instances are associated with tennis. In fact, less than 5% of those with the condition developed it as the result of tennis, racquetball, or squash.

Golfer’s Elbow (Medial Epicondylitis)

Golfer’s elbow is another form of epicondylitis, a condition that causes pain where the tendons of your forearm muscles attach to your elbow. The difference between golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow is the exact region of the forearm it affects. Tennis elbow affects the lateral (outside) region of the elbow, while golfer’s elbow affects the medial (inside) of the elbow. Like tennis elbow, the symptoms of golfer’s elbow are most apparent when gripping an object.

Signs and Symptoms of Golfer’s Elbow

  • Pain and tenderness on the inner side of the elbow
  • Redness and swelling of the elbow
  • Stiffness in the elbow
  • Weakness in your hands and wrists
  • Numbness or tingling in your fingers

Who Suffers from Golfer’s Elbow?

Golfer’s elbow affects 1% to 3% of the population. While it is common among golfers, it is can affect individuals at any age. Men between the ages of 35 and 50 are most likely experience golfer’s elbow. Moreover, like tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow is not exclusive to athletes and is common among workers who repetitively use their wrist and elbows.

Swimmer’s Shoulder / Thrower’s Shoulder (Impingement Syndrome)

Both swimmer’s shoulder and thrower’s shoulder are used to refer to the same condition—painful inflammation due to tendons rubbing on the shoulder blade. The pain of inflammation is noticeable during many everyday activities including reaching overhead or reaching behind the back. It may not even be necessary for an individual to raise their arm high in order to experience pain.

Signs and Symptoms of Swimmer’s Shoulder

  • Pain than worsens when your arm is overhead
  • Pain when you reach behind your back
  • Pain when at rest
  • Pain when lying on the sore shoulder
  • Muscle weakness when trying to reach or lift

Who Suffers from Swimmer’s Shoulder?

It is estimated that 20% of the population will experience shoulder pain during their lifetime. Shoulder impingement is estimated to account for 44-65% of all shoulder pain complaints.

As the names imply, shoulder impingement is common among both swimmers and throwers, particularly those who are elite athletes. The shoulder and upper arm accounts for 31% of injuries among male swimmers and 36% of injuries among female swimmers. Among baseball players, pitchers account for 38% percent of all injuries, with shoulder and elbow injuries being the most common.

Golfer’s Knee

The knee undergoes a tremendous amount of stress during a golf swing. A normal swing puts 4.5 times the body weight on a forward knee and 3.2 times the body weight on the opposite knee. These forces over time can contribute to golfer’s knee—or painful inflammation in the knee—that is estimated to affect 10% of golfers.

Signs and Symptoms of Golfer’s Knee

  • Pain and tenderness in the knee
  • Redness and swelling of the knee
  • Clicking or grinding sensation in the knee
  • Weakness in your knee

Who Suffers from Golfer’s Knee?

While the rate of knee injuries directly related to overuse is unknown, it is estimated that 55% of all sports-related injuries are related to the knee joint. Prolonged use of the knee joint—no matter the sport—causes wear and tear that subsequently causes structural damage and inflammation.

In general, research indicates that recreational golfers sustain more injuries than professional level golfers. Moreover, the rate of incidence increases with age. This is primarily due to the fact that a torn meniscus, knee arthritis (osteoarthritis), and kneecap pain (chondromalacia) can all worsen the symptoms of overuse.

Treatments

Treatment should be focused on reducing pain and inflammation, increasing mobility and strength, and modifying behaviors in order to prevent future injury.

Apply RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) when you experience pain and inflammation:

  • Rest your shoulder, elbow, and knee from any painful activities or movements.
  • Apply ice or a cold pack to the affected area for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day. It is important to apply a towel over the ice or cold pack before applying it to the skin. If swelling is gone after 48 to 72 hours, heat can be applied to reduce pain.
  • Apply a compression wrap to the affected area. Ensure that the wrap is firm but not too tight. Loosen the bandage if you experience tingling, numbness, or pain in the area below the bandage.
  • Elevate the affected area on pillows. If you can, keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help minimize swelling.

You can repeat this method several times a day in order to manage symptoms.

In general, overuse injuries improve with adequate rest and time; however, this may require you to stop participation in sports or work activities for several weeks while your body heals. If you cannot take a prolonged break, consider taking short breaks through the course of your day. You may also need to scale back the frequency and intensity of your activities to not only recuperate in the short term but also avoid recurrent injury.

When to See an Orthopaedic Specialist at Beacon

If your elbow, shoulder, and knee pain do not improve with conservative treatment, it may indicate a more serious condition.

Seek an orthopaedic specialist at Beacon Orthopaedics for immediate treatment if:

  • You can’t move your shoulder, bend your elbow, or bend your knee
  • Your shoulder, elbow, and knee appear deformed
  • You suspect you’ve broken a bone
  • Your symptoms inhibit you from everyday living

Only a certified orthopaedic physician can accurately diagnose your condition and provide the best form of treatment. A specialist can also help you develop proper body mechanics that will preserve your joints for years to come.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve explored in this article, and conservative home treatments haven’t helped, schedule an appointment with Dr. Steve Hamilton for an evaluation and treatment plan personalized to you.