As a physical therapist, I often see two types of patients. Those who don’t do enough, and those who over do it. Of course, this is a very general classification, but when someone injures himself or herself, it is often because of lack of use or overuse. From personal experience, I have been both of these types of patients, just at different points in my life.
In my previous blog, I discussed ways to increase an active lifestyle while not falling off the wagon. Most of us have a hard time squeezing in what is considered adequate exercise on a weekly basis. However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, many of us over do it. Over exercise. All while increasing the risk of burn out and overuse injuries, whether short or long term. I am talking about those overzealous marathoners, ultra marathoners, triathletes, swimmers, and youth athletes. There are also those who exercise for a living. These aren’t just your professional athletes, but your very own personal trainers, aerobic instructors, yoga teachers, or coaches. Although they are teaching or coaching most of the day, they are often exercising multiple times a day too, many feeling the pressures of walking the walk and not just talking the talk. They, too, can over do it. Staying fit for a living may look glamorous, but when having pain or injury is at risk, listening to your body is essential.
I was a competitive swimmer for over fifteen years. During my college years, I was swimming twelve to eighteen hours a week and weight training three to five hours a week on top of that. I experienced shoulder injuries that would come and go, and I still experience discomfort in yoga class—a gentle reminder that my shoulders aren’t perfect after all of those years of swimming. But, it wasn’t until after college, when I started training for triathlons, that I really experienced pain preventing me from competing or exercising at all for several months. I was swimming and running three times a week, biking one time a week, and taking Pilates twice a week. All while working forty hours a week and teaching summer swimming lessons on the weekends for about six hours each day. Can we say overzealous? Addicted? Injury waiting to happen?
I didn’t know what it was to slow down. Hey, I was twenty-four, and like most twenty-somethings, I thought I was unstoppable.
When I hurt my knee in the first 100 yards of a typical Monday morning jog, I was limping instantly. That limp didn’t go away for almost eight weeks. This was an awaking for me. Exercise was my stress reducer, my haven, and I had to stop all of it. I couldn’t take a single step without pain. I saw a physical therapist and acupuncturist regularly. I had a trip to Africa planned only four months away filled with hiking, trekking, safaris…I had to get better.
For me, this overuse injury was a huge turning point in my life. It actually created more positive changes than negative. (I am not saying I recommend injuring yourself in order to have your a-ha moment.) Believe me, at the time, I was scared. I knew I was over doing it. Over training. But I didn’t care. I wanted to push myself. I wanted to see how far I could go. Even though I knew I was overdoing it, at the time, I would have never admitted that to myself or anyone else.
With that being said, I am going to share some signs to notice that might help you decide whether or not you are over training or may know someone who is overdoing it and may be at risk of injury.
1. Guilt trip. Are you feeling badly about missing your daily two-hour workout?
2. Weight gain. Although you may be burning thousands of calories, your body may be burning through muscle tissue all while storing fats. This is your body’s way of trying to maintain homeostasis—the balancing set point your body needs to function properly.
3. Fatigue. Even though you are working out daily and feel tired by the end of the day, when ready for bed, you may find yourself restless while not getting a good night’s sleep. Restlessness and fatigue are caused by an imbalance in your body. A fatigued body when pushed during hard exercise may predispose you to injury.
4. Aches and pains. After a hard workout, your muscles naturally build up what is called lactic acid. This can often take several days after a workout to release. But if you aren’t giving your body the proper rest it needs to recover, lactic acid continues to build, contributing to cramping, pain, and stiffness.
5. Avoiding social gatherings. Do you find yourself putting your workout routine first? Would you rather go for a run than spend time with friends, family, or your significant other? Be careful. You may be hurting others before hurting yourself.
Because so many, including myself, encourage exercise, over exercising and burnout can often be overlooked. It truly can cause more harm than good, creating physical and, possibly, emotional stress. Giving yourself a day off, a day to sleep through your alarm, is actually the best thing you could do for yourself. Don’t feel guilty. Relax. Enjoy it. Go back to bed.
Erin Carr, PT, DPT, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy at The Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine and The Colburn School. She loves working with people of all ages using a multi-faceted treatment approach. She works with you, taking a team approach with the goal of diminishing pain and restoring optimal function. To learn more, visit www.erincarrpt.com or you can follow Erin on Facebook or Twitter.