I recently posted on social media about how I was using the FITT protocol to ease me back into running. This stirred interest in some of my clients, who wanted to learn more during their sports massage treatments. Here you can read about the FITT protocol and how it can help to reduce the risk of overuse injuries.
What Is An Overuse Injury?
When we exercise, train, or otherwise place demand on our body, micro trauma occurs in the bones and soft tissues. When we give the body time to recover, these tiny injuries heal and the body adapts to the demand.
Overuse injuries occur when the body has not adapted to the demands we place on it. For example, shin splints are a common problem for beginner runners. When we run the tibia (shin bone) bends very slightly to account for impact. This causes micro injury to the bone and sometimes to the surrounding soft tissues. This can escalate to shin splints or even stress fractures if the body is not given adequate recovery time between runs.
What Are The Risk Factors For Overuse Injury?
- Increasing the frequency, intensity, duration, or type of sport or exercise you are doing.
- Posture dysfunction.
- Repetitive sporting, recreational, or occupational activities.
- Muscular compensation
- Existing acute injuries elsewhere
What Can I Do To Reduce The Risk of Overuse Injury?
- Follow the FITT protocol (frequency, intensity, time, and type) when adjusting your training, starting exercise, or trying a new sport. Only manipulate one of the four factors at a time. If you are changing the type of training you are doing (for example from swimming to running), phase the new sport in gradually. To begin, add one session per week whilst continuing your usual training the rest of the time.
- Get to know the recommendations of progressive overload and sport specific drills for your sport. Ask a trainer or coach, follow a well regarded plan (such as the NHS couch to 5K), or research using reputable sources. For example, runners are advised to increase mileage by no more than 10% per week.
- Check in with your sports massage / soft tissue therapist. They will be able to assess your body for vulnerable areas and do some treatment to improve them. This is known as prehabilitation. They may also advise you on some exercises and stretches specific to your body’s needs.
- Allow for good quality recovery. Make sure you are eating, drinking, sleeping, and stretching enough.
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How does an overuse injury develop?
- A very small number of muscle fibres are overloaded relative to the load through the surrounding fibres, and become dysfunctional.
- The person may not feel pain as the area is so small, and may continue the activity.
- The micro trauma can’t heal without recovery time and the body may lay down scar tissue.
- The surrounding fibres take on the workload that the injured fibres can’t do.
- The cycle repeats in the surrounding fibres and the dysfunctional area grows, leaving the muscle more vulnerable to acute strain.