Avoiding Overuse Injuries

"Mobility issues, or mobility impairments, are extremely common, whether temporary or permanent," says Kosta Kokolis, M.S., P.T., the founder and clinical director of Theramotion Physical Therapy Studio, which has multiple locations around New York City.

Mobility issues include problems with "walking, climbing, ascending or descending stairs, standing, carrying objects, moving while sitting, or in bed, and reaching overhead or bending down."

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries are caused by repeated trauma, commonly seen in sports or athletic training, or exercise technique errors; they usually involve a forceful movement. Overuse injuries are a very common cause of repetitive stress, or repetitive strain injuries (RSI), which are caused by repeated tasks, repetitive movements and overuse, or by using a repeated force.

The problem is that when muscles get tired from exercise or sport, "forces are no longer absorbed by the muscle but transfer to other structures, which result in injury," and mobility issues.

And its's not just the activity itself that can cause injury: "Not giving the body enough time to recover [after exercise] and rest can lead to muscle, tendon [the tissue that connects muscle to bone]; ligament [a strong flexible band that connects two bones]; cartilage [the smooth, hard tissue that lines the surface of our joints and makes movements fluid and easy], or even bone injuries," Kokolis points out.

Also keep in mind that avoiding exercising—or not getting enough—can be just as bad as getting too much. For instance, people with sedentary (inactive) lifestyles or jobs often have poor posture because of weak postural muscles and poor flexibility of the spine as well as the upper and lower extremities. Holding a prolonged position, which can happen while driving or sitting at a desk, can cause RSIs. To reduce the risk of injury, Kokolis advises exercising four to six days a week.

3 Types of Mobility-Preserving Exercises

While getting the right amount of exercise is important, so is the type of exercise you perform. To prevent injury and preserve mobility, Kokolis recommends the following:

  • Stretching: "While it happens to be one of the most neglected practices by athletes, stretching helps improve blood flow to the muscles, helps improve recovery, and increases mobility of the muscles and tendons."
  • Strengthening: Strength training (often performed using your body weight, free weights, or weight machines) helps preserve muscle mass. Kokolis suggests a comprehensive strengthening program for the upper and lower extremities (the arms and legs), as well as the core (the abdominal muscles and the nearby stabilizing and lower back muscles). "These muscle groups are imperative in general mobility, and must be habitually strengthened to avoid injury." In addition, "Cross training [an exercise program that incorporates different kinds of exercise, like weight lifting and cardio] has also proven to give the body overall conditioning for any activity," Kokolis points out. 
  • Calming: Kokolis also likes calming exercises such as yoga, meditation, or tai-chi, "to relax the muscles, body, and mind, and also to balance and rid the fatigue, strain, and inflammation" accumulated throughout the day.

5 More Ways to Prevent Injuries

Kokolis also recommends the following:

  1. Always listen to your body--don't let small aches and strains turn into big pains and strains.
  2. Eat a balanced diet, since your muscles have to have the right nutrients to perform well.
  3. Get help from a physical therapist if you're dealing with chronic pain.
  4. Seek professional help to evaluate and help resolve any balance issues you may have--this can help prevent injury.
  5. If you're injured, regain proper mechanics (form) and work on your flexibility and strength prior to returning to the activity.

A Final Note

Finally, Kokolis stresses the need to find the right balance and be sure not abstain from activities so much that you actually put yourself at risk for getting hurt or letting your muscles atrophy (weaken, usually due to a lack of physical activity).

Kosta Kokolis reviewed this article.


Kokolis, Kosta, M.S., P.T. Founder and clinical director, Theramotion Physical Therapy Studio. Email interview, Nov. 11, 2015.