Movement | Stretching & Flexibility

How to Avoid Overuse Pain

You have probably heard the term overuse syndrome. Or, maybe you have experienced it. You have a pain that instead of getting better as you were hoping, it just slowly gets worse. After awhile, you find yourself at the doctor’s office, and he/she tells you that you have been overusing certain muscles. As a result, they never get a chance to rest and heal. The cure is often to rest, take anti-inflammatories, possibly get a brace, maybe get a shot of steroid, or some physical therapy.

Meanwhile, your life has been impacted. You may have trouble sleeping, you may have to give up favorite activities (tennis, golf), or you may have trouble doing certain activities of daily living that were once easy for you.

Once this happens, it can be a long road back to normal function, or resuming the fun things that you like to do.

How does this happen?

Many times it is because you have a job or activity that has you doing the same things over and over again. For example, many of us end up with carpal tunnel syndrome from spending long hours at the keyboard with our wrists in a compromised position. Or, for those of us who are not professional athletes, a little bit of poor technique, applied over and over, can result in things like tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow.

What do these scenarios have in common? Basically, it’s the result of repetitive motion in an awkward or compromised position. Ones that your body is not equipped to support for long periods of time.

In this realm, overuse syndrome is a worst-case scenario. Overuse pain can be just as significant and happens for similar reasons. It comes about when you keep holding your body in a position that is not compatible with good posture or muscle balance. This is how you end up with aches and pains that nag you, don’t really ever go away, make you feel old, and stop you from doing some activities.

For instance, many of us probably hold our heads forward during most of the day. This is hard to avoid while using a computer, phone, iPad, writing at a desk, or even watching TV. As our head goes, so do our shoulders. Next thing you know, it is actually difficult to stand up straight, and our shoulders tend to get locked in to a forward, slightly slumped, position.

In another example, think about this: How often do you bend to the side to give your spine and the side of your legs a chance to get out of the linear, forward facing rut that we are all in?

These are just a few examples of what our bodies usually do and the posture that we tend to hold all day. If you take a quick inventory, I bet you can come up with quite a few more. You can also take a few minutes to focus on areas of your body that hurt, ache, or don’t move very well. Chances are very good that the problem comes from overusing some muscles in those areas.

You may be able to figure out some moves to counteract these overuse patterns. To give you a head start, here are a few examples. These moves can be done without warming up, but do require you to stand up.

1. Chin tuck. Stand tall. Place the fingers of either hand on your chin. Push your chin straight back and hold that position for 30 seconds or so. Then do it again! Watch out for just tilting your head back instead. Sometimes it helps to stand against a wall, keep your chin level, and push back until the back of your head touches the wall (see below).

2. Side bend with IT band stretch. Your IT band (iliotibial band) is a long band of fascia that runs from the side of your butt to just below your knee on the outside. There are many ways this band can get tight. This move helps to stretch that area and give your spine a chance to stretch out as well, and do some bending. Stand tall and tighten your abs/core. Position yourself sideways to a wall, 12 – 16 inches away from it. Cross the outside leg over and behind the one closest to the wall. Bring the outside arm directly over to the side and over your head so that it ends up touching the wall. Hold this position for 30 seconds or so, and then do the other side in the same manner. You can put your other hand on the wall to help you with balance if you need to (see below).

3. Hugs. Stand tall and tighten your abs/core (yes, yet again…). Bring your arms around yourself in a gigantic hug. Then open both arms out to your sides as wide as you can. Get your shoulder blades involved by bringing them towards each other as you open out. Bring your arms back in for the hug, and out again, 10 times or so. Do this with a fair amount of abandon, giving your arms and shoulders a chance to relax and move instead of being stuck in the forward position. Another tip: do your best not to shrug up with your shoulders as you do this (see below).

4. Swims. Next is the swimming part. Bring one arm directly up while the other one is down at your side. Then, switch them. Keep doing this switch 10 times or so, again with a fair amount of abandon. Give your shoulders and arms a chance to move and relax (see below).

The bottom line here is that you want to keep moving. And you want to keep moving in ways that counteract your habitual ways of holding yourself. You will feel better, and you may avoid the pain of overuse now or in the future.

How else can you move to counteract habitual patterns? Challenge yourself to come up with two or three.

All the best,
Kristen

© 2017-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.


Chin Tuck
Side Bend

Hug
Open the Hug
Swim Left
Swim Right

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