In the Red Zone: Swelling and Heat Are the First Signs of Overuse Injuries

overuse injury, man riding bike“No pain, no gain” is a common mantra among dedicated athletes. Sometimes it’s best to give it a rest. Building muscles or bones starts by stressing these tissues first. “With time to heal, muscles and bones rebuild themselves stronger and better than before. That’s how the body works,” said Elise Hiza, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Asheville Orthopaedic Associates.

Balance Is Best

Overuse injuries are caused by doing too much activity too quickly, not using correct form and most commonly from doing the same exercises day after day. Common overuse injuries are inflammation of the muscles, tendons and ligaments, which can even escalate to stress fractures.

Affecting people of all ages, the best medicine is rest. However, for driven athletes, this advice can be a tough pill to swallow. “It’s difficult to convince fitness buffs to take time off from their favorite workout,” said Dr. Hiza. “Recognizing early warnings and letting things heal can prevent more serious injuries and longer recovery times.”

On the Lookout

Take note of patterns of pain, inflammation and swelling. Do you have difficulty opening a door after playing long tennis matches? Do your shins or knees ache after running that extra mile? These are some of the signs of an overuse injury.

How to Treat Overuse Injuries

Dr. Hiza recommends RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation. In addition, taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and gentle stretching can bring relief. “If the pain persists, consider going to your doctor or physical therapist,” said Dr. Hiza.

Virtues of Variety

Instead of concentrating solely on one sport, play multiple sports. For example, basketball players can consider yoga, Pilates, aerobics or kickboxing. Runners may enjoy cross training, weight lifting or yoga to vary their workouts.

Watch for the early warning signs. “The vast majority of these injuries are successfully treated with simple remedies,” said Dr. Hiza.


Elise Hiza, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon at Asheville Orthopaedic Associates who serves as the medical director of the Mission Sports Medicine Program.

For more information about orthopedic-related care or to find an office near you, visit missionhealth.org/orthopedics [1].