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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Overuse...or MISuse?

Just because you can doesn't mean you should.

View any running publication and you are certain to find at least one article addressing some type of  “overuse” injury…IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and various other forms of “-itis” or “-osis” and syndromes.   Google the term “overuse injuries” and you’ll get nearly a half million results.  The assumption is that doing too much of something causes these injuries.  In some cases, the quantity of workload is indeed the causal factor.  However, in many instances, the fault is not the quantity of the training but rather the manner of the training or the movement preparation (or lack thereof) that went into the training.  While this discussion might appear like semantics on the surface, how we frame our perspective on the term “overuse” will shape many training decisions.      

Consider this point to start: why are many injuries unilateral?  If quantity-of-use is the deciding factor, then injuries would all occur bilaterally.  The problem with saying “I did too much” is that such a conclusion is inherently limiting.   Without addressing the cause of the problems you’ll always have limitations on what type and quantity of training you can do in the future.  A better approach is to say “What aspect of my movement prevented me from accomplishing the training that I was trying to accomplish?”  (Note, we’re making the assumption that the training you were trying to accomplish was actually worthwhile, which can be a big assumption in some cases…)

A unilateral injury often reflects an underlying asymmetry.  Unless we take a defeatist attitude of  “Oh well, that’s just the way I’m built”, the presence of an asymmetry by definition belies the notion that simply doing “too much” is the underlying cause of the injury.  If you bring an asymmetry to the game, you’re already handicapped (pardon the pun).  Doing too much may provoke an injury but to only define the condition as one of “overuse” misses the point entirely.  The real problem is one of MIS-use from not properly assessing our capabilities in relation to the specific demands of the activity.

It is also important to consider all factors outside of running.  Workplace ergonomics, seated posture, bike posture for triathletes, and lifting mechanics while doing yardwork, housework, and while carrying kids/grandkids can all play roles in establishing vulnerabilities.  Everyone wants to bring a magical exercise, treatment, shoe, supplement, or yoga pose to fix a problem (and there’s an entire marketplace filled with voodoo techniques and other quackery intent on fixing your problems), but in many cases what NOT to do is more important TO do.  Likewise, poorly chosen supplementary athletic activities can also shape suboptimal movement.  Drills and strength training are only useful if done with perfection.  Supplementary training has as much to do with protecting you from life as protecting you from running.  What you do outside running can make you more vulnerable to the demands of running but to blame running alone is nothing more than a convenient excuse.

Laying blame on running rather than with factors behind vulnerabilities also leads to suboptimal training approaches.  Especially problematic is people taking unnecessary off days or not running enough mileage. Running more, within reason, can actually prevent these “overuse” injuries.  When you prepare yourself appropriately to run, train consistently, and don’t do stupid stuff, the neuromuscular learning effect is quite profound.  Common thinking is, “I didn’t get hurt when I wasn’t running, but I got hurt after I ran a bunch, so it must have been the running that broke me down.”  Note, this does NOT mean run through pain, but it does mean that if your training plan is such that you NEED multiple days off during a normal training week, something is wrong with your training.  Again, it’s not only the how much, it is the how that matters.      

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