Overuse Injury Clinical Presentation

Updated: Jul 31, 2017
  • Author: Scott R Laker, MD; Chief Editor: Consuelo T Lorenzo, MD  more...
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The first and most crucial step is obtaining comprehensive information on the onset, timing, and frequency of symptoms; any associated symptoms; and alleviating and exacerbating factors. More detailed information about the culprit activity or technique problem is also key. Systemic symptoms should be elicited, if present. Other hallmark symptoms may include a history of popping, clicking, rubbing, erythema, or vascular phenomena. [18] When interviewing an athlete, specific attention must be paid to training details, equipment fit, and technique.



The examination should begin with the basics of inspection, palpation, and passive and active range of motion (ROM). Tenderness and guarding are often present. Crepitus, painful or painless, is often found during the ROM examination. Obvious erythema, swelling, and anatomic derangement raise the possibility of an acute injury or infection, as well as the presence of an inflammatory disease. [19] For physical findings associated with specific injuries, refer to the specific article in Differentials.



The most important factor leading to overuse injury is repetitive activity, although the specific type of force leads to different outcomes. [20]

One group of authors accurately described the issue as "a culprit and a victim," in which the victim is the injured tissue, and the culprit is the true biomechanical cause. All too frequently, physicians focus on the victim tissue and not on the culprit.

Repetition is part of the definition of overuse injury. The concept is that overuse injury is associated with repeated challenge without sufficient recovery time.

Cycles and fundamental cycles are terms used to describe activities repeated at work. A cycle is a large-scale activity that is repeated throughout the day. A fundamental cycle is a small component of a cycle that may be repeated several times during the performance of a cycle. If a job has cycles that are repeated many times a day, the job is designated as repetitive. The tendency in industry to specialize labor for the sake of efficiency and better productivity has resulted in fewer different tasks per job. These tasks are repeated frequently, and this repetition is believed to be a contributing factor to the increase of overuse injury claims. Repetitiveness and force exerted are features of a task that increase the risk of sustaining an overuse injury.

However, studies have been performed that dispute this theory, finding that cycle times and repetitive motions do not specifically lead to overuse injury in the upper extremity. Most articles in the literature tend to implicate these repetitive motions as possible causes for injury.

Vibration, especially over long periods, has long been shown to be a factor in increasing the risk of many injuries (eg, lower back pain, intervertebral disk injury, wrist injury).

The greater the forces involved, the greater the likelihood of developing an overuse injury. [21]

Malpositioning limbs away from their neutral position increases the risk for overuse injury. Multiple articles in dental and surgical literature emphasize this point. Ergonomics is the field that focuses primarily on designing devices that lend themselves to good positioning. A massive increase has occurred in the amount of ergonomically designed work equipment, especially keyboards and mouses. The literature remains divided on their effectiveness in decreasing injuries.

A literature review found a moderate association between hand-arm symptoms and increasing duration of mouse use. [22, 23] There was a weaker association between neck-arm symptoms and mouse use. Nevertheless, prolonged computer and mouse use does not typically result in chronic neck and shoulder pain. [24] However, certain psychosocial factors may be predictive of chronic pain.

A literature review by Arnold et al concerning skeletally immature athletes with overuse physial injuries found that risk factors for such trauma include periods of accelerated growth, body size, previous injury, chronologic age, and training volume. [12]