Having spent most of my life taking ballet classes and performing, I have had my fair share of overuse injuries. Overuse injuries are very common in athletes because of the repetitive stress placed on tendons, muscles, bones, and joints. Usually, athletes ignore pain and push through it. However, ignoring pain at its very early signs is precisely how overuse injuries develop. If caught early however, an injury can usually be prevented by fixing improper technique or muscle imbalances. If you are an athlete, you should be aware of injuries that are common so you can watch for signs of pain and hopefully avoid them.
1. Little League Elbow
Common in children who play baseball and softball, little league elbow is an injury that affects the medial epicondyle apophysis or growth plate. This injury is caused by the force of pitching, which overloads the elbow. Fortunately, like all overuse injuries, little league elbow is easily preventable. By using proper form and not going over the maximum pitch count for age, young baseball and softball players can avoid this injury. Also, it is important that players not pitch when they are experiencing pain so that damage doesn’t occur.
2. ACL Injury
The ACL is the anterior cruciate ligament that supports the knee. Athletes who jump a lot or make sudden starts and stops are more susceptible to ACL injuries. Interestingly, females are much more likely to injure an ACL, but the reason is still unclear. To prevent ACL injuries, it is important to have strong hip abductors to keep the knee from twisting. Additionally, it is also very helpful to strengthen the quadriceps. Often, an athletic trainer can help you correct muscle imbalances if you are experiencing pain in your knee, which will help prevent an ACL injury.
3. Jumper’s Knee
Just like the name implies, jumper’s knee is common in athletes who jump. It is an inflammation of the patellar tendon known as patellar tendonitis. The patellar tendon connects the kneecap to the shin bone and provides strength to the knee when it is straightened during jumps. If you are in a sport that has you jumping a lot and you begin to feel pain in your knee or right below your knee cap, it is important to rest. Tendonitis will progressively get worse if it is not treated in its early stages. Ice can often help calm the inflammation. To prevent patellar tendonitis it is important to maintain flexibility in the the quadriceps, lower leg, and hamstrings.
4. Shin Splints
If you have ever had shin splints, you know how painful they can be. Shin splints are very common in all sports, and they result from an inflammation in the tissue surrounding the tibia. Usually, shin splints are caused by a sudden increase in training, poor flexibility, or constant pounding on hard surfaces. It generally starts as a mild tenderness when the foot is bent down, but progresses into a very painful condition that can greatly limit mobility. Rest, ice, massage, and flexibility and strength training can help shin splints. In fact, I can tell you from experience that when properly treated, shin splints can heal quite quickly.
5. Achilles Tendonosis
Achilles tendonosis result from micro tears in the Achilles tendon. It is a very painful condition that results in the damage or loss of healthy tissue. This injury can develop gradually or rapidly and will result in the tendon being stiff or sore. Usually, training too intensely is the cause of Achilles tendonosis. Weak calf muscles and an imbalance in flexibility can also result in this condition. Rest and ice are often recommended. Shoe inserts can also be helpful if you are experiencing Achilles tendonosis.
6. Snapping Hip Syndrome
It is probably an exaggeration, but I feel like all ballet dancers have Snapping Hip Syndrome. I do not know one ballet dancer who doesn’t have a hip that pops. Snapping Hip Syndrome occurs when tendons painfully snap over the bone and hip joint when the hip is raised to the chest. It is common in track, gymnastics, and ballet, and usually results from a strength and flexibility imbalance.
7. Stress Fractures
Stress fractures typically affect the shins, but they can also affect ankles and the top top of the thigh bone. Stress fractures are very painful and they usually result from a lack of strength and poor mechanics; although, overtraining is also a cause of stress fractures. It is very important to have any kind of pain in the shin, ankle, or thigh bone examined at an early stage because stress fractures that are untreated can require surgery. I know many people who have had stress fractures, and been frustrated by the long healing time. When you have a stress fracture it can take 6 weeks or more to heal and requires the affected body part to be immobilized and non-weight bearing.
Overuse injuries in athletes may be common, but they are very preventable. Paying attention to your body and resting it when it is in pain is very important. Also, if you are experiencing pain you should seek help to find out if any strength or flexibility imbalance is the problem. Having had several overuse injuries, I am now much more careful in paying attention to my body. Have you ever had an overuse injury?