Many injuries to the joints are caused by a one-time traumatic event, such as a fall. However, more common are overuse injuries or conditions that result from too much activity, repetitive activities, poor form or a combination of those factors. Athletes often experience overuse injuries, but they can also be caused by daily activities — for example, tennis elbow is only caused by playing tennis in about five percent of all cases.
Because these injuries are so common, it’s important to understand why they occur and how to avoid them.
Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, is an inflammation of the tendons on the outside of the elbow joining the forearm muscle to the joint. The elbow joint consists of the humerus (upper arm) and the radius and ulna (forearm) bones; the bony protrusions at the bottom of the humerus are called the epicondyle. Tennis elbow occurs when repetitive motion, such as the swinging of a racket, causes the extensor carpi radialis brevis, or the forearm tendon attached to the epicondyle, to become inflamed. The result is pain or a burning sensation on the outside of the elbow that worsens with activity.
Although most people can recover from tennis elbow without surgery — rest, support and physical therapy usually solve the problem — it’s still important to prevent it. Avoid repetitive motions for extended periods, use proper equipment, and learn proper form and body mechanics
Most common among runners, shin splints is a painful condition that can be brought on by any vigorous physical activity. The term refers to pain occurring on the outer edge of the tibia, or shinbone; the medical term is medial tibial stress syndrome and it refers to the inflammation of the muscles, tendons and tissue surrounding the tibia, typically where the tissue meets the bone.
Getting a medical diagnosis of shin splints is important because the pain can often be confused with that of a stress fracture, tendonitis or chronic exertional compartment syndrome, a serious and painful condition requiring treatment. Shin splints, however, is treated with rest, ice, compression and flexibility exercises; you can usually prevent the condition by wearing supportive footwear and/or orthotic inserts, cross-training and gradually increasing your activity as your fitness level improves.
The complicated structure of the knee joint renders it susceptible to several overuse injuries that cause pain to the front of the knee, collectively known as runner’s knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome. This pain can be caused by any number of conditions, including flat feet, misalignment of the kneecap, an injury to the joint or dislocation.
Runner’s knee is characterized by a pain in the front of the kneecap (patella) where it connects with the lower end of the thigh bone (femur). It’s aggravated by activity and by sitting or standing for long periods of time. You’ll need to see a doctor to determine the exact cause of the pain and course of treatment; for example, in many cases the pain is caused by the patella being out of alignment. This can wear on the patella’s cartilage and subsequent irritation on the lining of the joint and underlying bone.
The specific treatment plan for runner’s knee depends on the cause, but usually involves rest, physical therapy and support. You can prevent the pain by wearing proper footwear, stretching appropriately, using good form and increasing your activity gradually.
If you are experiencing pain and believe it is due to overuse, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. From there, your doctor may refer you to a specialist. Follow the appropriate precautions to avoid pain in the first place.