The Cumulative Injury Cycle – What You Need To Know To Avoid Injuries

Person holding their wrist and hand in pain from a cumulative injury cycle.

You may be suffering from the cumulative injury cycle if you experience a frequent, repetitive injury that results from overuse. This type of injury that can send you into the cumulative injury cycle is often acute, and it’s usually caused by constant pressure or tension. If you know how to recognize the early signs of an overuse injury, then you can take steps to prevent it from becoming a nagging problem.

Signs That You May Be In the Cumulative Injury Cycle

You may be in the cumulative injury cycle if you frequently experience:

  • inflammation
  • adhesions and fibrosis
  • weak and tense tissues
  • decreased circulation

As your symptoms worsen, so does the severity of your injury. If you don’t treat these symptoms, they may lead to:

  • greater risk of a severe injury
  • loss of function
  • decreased strength
  • decreased range of motion (ROM)
  • pain
  • the possible need for surgery
  • possible permanent loss of strength and ROM
Woman suffering from cumulative injury cycle. With word art depicting the cycle of Injury, Inflammation, Adhesion , Muscle Imbalance.

Risk Factors for the Cumulative Injury Cycle

Your risk of injury increases when the intensity, frequency, and duration of your exercise sessions exceed your physical ability. However, there are many other factors that can push you into the cumulative injury cycle.

Your Risk Factors at Work and Home

Some of your job activities may cause or contribute to your cumulative injury cycle. For instance, if you’re a chef, you may perform hours of chopping motions that put pressure on your carpal tunnel. This may cause you to experience pain later when you’re exercising.

Today’s technology can also be a culprit. If you’re like most people, you likely spend a lot of time online, whether at home, work, or when furthering your education. You may also spend a lot of time texting people. The sheer amount of time you spend on a computer without taking breaks or using proper ergonomic posture can contribute to the cumulative injury cycle. If you have to spend the majority of your day at a computer, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of injury:

  • Take frequent breaks to move around and stretch.
  • Make sure that your workstation is properly configured. Your keyboard should be positioned so that when you’re typing, both your elbows are bent to 90 degrees.
  • Keep your hands and wrist in a straight, neutral position when you’re typing. You should never have to bend your wrists to reach the keys. This can cause a tremendous amount of friction and irritation within your carpal tunnel. Your tendons can rub against the surrounding tissue, and the longer this occurs, the more irritation and inflammation you’ll develop.

Your Risk Increases With Age

You’re more likely to suffer from an overuse injury as you get older. This is mainly because of general wear and tear on your body, particularly on joints that you subject to a repeated activity. However, your flexibility also decreases as you age, and this can further contribute to the cycle.

The Reconditioning Process After Injury

The keys to reconditioning are Flexibility, Strengthening, and Functional Rehabilitation.

  • To begin the reconditioning process, start with exercises that involve static, pain-free stretching.
  • After your flexibility has improved, use a program of progressive resistance training to increase your muscle strength.
  • Once you have gotten strong enough gradually add intensity within your movements (1).

Know the Signs So You Can Avoid Injuries

You may attribute the common signs of the cumulative injury cycles, such as pain, stiffness, and decreased strength to simply getting older. However, if you don’t take steps to break the cumulative injury cycle and treat your injury, you may experience a permanent injury. There are many ways you can minimize your chance of injury and reduce the severity of any overuse injuries that you experience. You may just need to make some simple lifestyle changes to keep you out of the cumulative injury cycle. For more articles on overcoming and preventing injuries look here.

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