It can happen to anyone- overuse injuries just when you’re getting into the groove of working out. Any type of injury is painful, but the worst part about overuse injuries is that they typically can be prevented. These injuries come from repetitive trauma to the body through sport or exercise. In addition to stress fractures, exercisers also might experience patellar tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and IT band syndrome (ITBS). Athletes are up against more than just overuse injuries, unfortunately. They also face risk of acute injury and chronic injury as well. Therefore, as much as possible, fitness professionals should take the necessary injury prevention measures to avoid damage from repetitive trauma.

Defining Acute, Chronic, And Overuse Injuries

As discussed, there are three primary types of injuries that can get in the way of training and daily activities:: 

Acute injuries that happen suddenly
Overuse injuries that happen over time
Chronic injuries that persist 

Acute Sports Injury 

Acute sports injuries are common and can happen suddenly due to an accident. Examples of acute injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Sprains (injury to the ligament)
  • Strains (injury to the muscle and/or tendon)
  • Muscle tears
  • Dislocations
These types of injuries are not predictable.One wrong step and you face an ankle sprain. Fall wrong and suddenly you have a shoulder dislocation. An acute injury can happen anywhere, at any time, and be caused by just about anything. Acute sports injuries are common, especially in contact sports. Athletic trainers are all too familiar with this kind of injury and know exactly how to treat them. If you want to know more about treatment of acute injuries, and be an athletic trainer, consider a degree in exercise science.

Chronic Injury 

Overuse injuries can evolve into Chronic injuries if ignored. A chronic injury is any injury that persists for a long time. When a client complains of an "old [sport] injury," they are describing a chronic injury.

An example of a chronic injury is tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis. Another example is Achilles tendonitis. This common overuse injury shows up as pain in the heel from an inflamed Achilles tendon. Runner's knee is a common knee injury clients describe as a dull pain at the front of the knee. Chronic injuries come and go and could last for years. A physical therapist or physical therapy technician are best suited to treat chronic conditions. An advanced exercise science degree is foundational if you want to work with athletes and general clients to treat chronic injuries.

Overuse Injury 

Overuse injuries are caused by repetitive trauma to a muscle or joint. It could be a stress fracture in a runner or a shoulder injury in a pitcher. Overuse injuries occur over time and aren’t acute. They result from small stresses over time. So, high-impact or repetitive stress sports might set up an athlete for risk of overuse injury. Personal trainers and other fitness professionals specializing in corrective exercise are great for preventing overuse injury. With a certification or AA degree, a personal trainer can help clients with overuse injury.

Recognizing The Different Types Of Injury

Acute and chronic injuries differ in a few ways; onset, pain quality, and duration of pain.  

Injury Onset Pain Quality Duration
Acute injuries happen suddenly. Sharp and/or shooting. Acute injuries cause pain at the onset. How long pain lasts depends upon the severity of the injury and access to care.
Chronic injuries happen over time. Constant ache or dull pain that comes and goes Chronic injuries can persist for years and be triggered by inadequate rest, extra physical activity, and certain movements.

Acute injuries have inflammation, bruising, and deformities. If a client complains of sudden sharp pain and the area they point to is swollen, red, and warm, it might be an acute injury, and they should stop exercising immediately. Once recovered and appropriately rehabilitated, an acute injury typically won’t come back.

Chronic injuries may also become swollen or inflamed. For example, tennis elbow and runner's knee can become swollen with too much activity. Chronic injuries may cause discomfort and pain even at rest.

Can bad Technique Cause Overuse Injuries? 

Overuse injuries happen for many reasons. Lifting loads that are too heavy can cause overuse injuries. So can improper progression. Another cause is poor technique. This includes bad form, performing a movement too fast, or using the wrong equipment. Bad form, practiced over time, can cause trauma and stress to an area, causing an overuse injury. 

Joints are the most common site for overuse injuries. Examples include tendon injuries like Achilles tendonitis and tennis elbow. Repetitive motion stresses the connective tissues, causing inflammation and pain.

Clients who try to “work through the pain” eventually cause irreparable wear and tear of the tendon or ligament. In some cases, the overuse injury becomes a chronic injury.


Other Causes of Overuse Injuries 

Repetitive stress to a bone can cause a stress fracture. For example, a frequent and endurance runner can cause tiny cracks in the tibia (shin splints) which cause pain over time. This injury is worsened with improper shoes and inadequate rest. 

Overuse injuries may also come from muscle imbalances and lack of flexibility. When a muscular imbalance occurs, it affects agonist-antagonist pairs. One muscle gets weak, causing the other muscle to overcompensate. The result is an increased risk of injury in the weak muscle and poor flexibility in the overcompensating muscle. Inflexibility and a limited range of motion affect muscle mechanics and, over time, risking an overuse injury. Finally, if a muscle is fatigued, it doesn’t work well and can’t protect the joint. An example is the knee joint. If the hamstrings and quadriceps are imbalanced, the knees get forced out of alignment. Improper tracking of the knee joint while running, walking, climbing stairs, biking, etc. can cause an overuse injury.

Avoid Overuse Injuries 

Overuse injury isn’t synonymous with exercise. A smart workout plan that includes warm-ups and cool-downs, periodization, time off, cross-training, and good form is the best plan of action to stay injury-free.

Warm-up and Cool-down 

Always include a proper warm-up and cool-down. Sometimes clients are in a pinch for time and want to jump straight into the workout. Remind them of the benefits of a proper warm-up and cool-down. Make sure they ease into workouts and allow enough time to cool down and stretch after.

Proper Progression 

We all love clients who give all-out effort. But it’s better to start low and go slow. Proper periodization and gradual progression go hand-in-hand to prevent injury and enhance fitness.

Don’t curb a client's enthusiasm too much. But don't let them jump into a program hard and fast. This is especially true if they haven't engaged in physical activity in a while. If they're excited and ready to get fit, remind them that fitness is a habit that needs to be built.  


Schedule time to take for recovery. Exercising often and for long periods without breaks can cause wear and tear on the body. Always include enough rest and recovery time in training programs. Client's may get frustrated when they're making good progress, and you tell them to take a day off. Overtraining is unhealthy and leads to preventable injuries. Reinforce the idea of proper progression and the role rest has in enhancing fitness.


Cross-training can help prevent overuse injuries. It also makes exercise more fun! If a client is training for a running race, encourage them to schedule some time on the bike, in the pool, or playing frisbee golf with friends. If they're a regular at Zumba, invite them to try a yoga class, or boot camp for variety.

Keeping athletes active during the off-season with cross-training will help them be ready for the pre-season. Give them some suggestions of activities that will enhance their sport-specific fitness measures without leading to an injury.

For example, runners benefit greatly from adding a strength training routine. Weight-bearing exercise strengthens the bones to help prevent stress fractures and can prevent runner's knee and a lifetime of knee pain.


Maintain Proper Form 

Before starting a fitness routine, complete a comprehensive client intake and assessment. Collect information using a total body assessment protocol. Remember to check for good posture. Posture is affected by weak muscles. And form is affected by poor posture. Exercising with poor form leads to muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalance leads to muscle weakness. It becomes a vicious cycle if not addressed straight away. 

To begin, it’s safest to focus on form. Even if the only weight the client lifts is a broomstick, they should do it with good form and posture.

In addition, dedicate time to teaching clients the proper movements before performing multiple sets and repetitions. Advise them to move slowly and intentionally so that each part of the movement becomes ingrained into their motor learning. Even world-class athletes break complicated exercises, like the snatch, into individual movements before trying to execute the full movement.


Other Preventive Measures

Here are a few recommended steps to keeping clients injury-free:

  • Wear appropriate footwear.
  • Use the right equipment.
  • Ensure sports equipment is properly fitted and adjusted.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat colorful whole foods.

The main takeaways to avoid future injuries include:

  • Avoid repetitive motion
  • Follow a periodized training plan
  • Use the right equipment
  • Stay physically active

To learn more about injury prevention, proper, progression, and therapeutic modalities, check out Lionel University’s degree program options. And, read this if you’re wondering why study exercise science at Lionel.

The degree programs at Lionel offer students a variety of degrees, plus students earn personal training and nutrition certifications along the way. This allows you to start working and get jobs as a fitness professional before you even graduate! It’s one of the many reasons why so many people choose Lionel University to study exercise science. To learn more about whether Lionel is a good fit for your exercise science degree, contact us today!