The Basics of Chronic Pain and Overuse Injuries

woman with elbow pain
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Chronic pain and injury refers to the sort of physical injury, illness, or disease that develops slowly and is persistent and long-lasting, or constantly recurring over time. Many chronic injuries have mild symptoms and low-grade pain, and are often ignored or simply overlooked for months or even years. Ignoring such mild aches and pains can lead to a persistent chronic injury that is difficult to heal.

Cumulative Trauma and Overuse Injuries

Chronic injuries are sometimes referred to as cumulative trauma, overuse injuries, or repetitive stress injuries.

Overuse injuries tend to have subtle or vague symptoms that develop slowly. They begin as a small, nagging ache or pain, and can grow into a debilitating injury if they aren't treated early. Overuse injuries are the result of repetitive use, stress and trauma to the soft tissues of the body (muscles, tendons, bones, and joints) without proper time for healing.

Examples of chronic injuries include:


Chronic injury issues are often hard to diagnose, as they often have symptoms that develop slowly over time. They can begin as just a small issue and grow into something much larger, if untreated. Thus, it is important to treat soft-tissue injuries as they occur, before they turn into something worse.

Chronic injuries are often the result of trauma to the soft tissues. A common acronym for soft tissue-related injury treatment is RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Rest: Getting proper rest is an extremely important aspect of injury recovery, regardless of if the injury occurred to a muscle, tendon, ligament, or bone. Once injured, a further activity that stresses the injured area must be stopped until the injury is allowed to recover over a period of time. Recovery time varies based on the particular injury, but the need for rest following an injury is universal. Be sure to give your body plenty of time to recover following any injury issues.

Ice: Cold contact provides short-term pain relief to an injured area, and also works to limit swelling by reducing the overall amount of blood flow to the injured area of the body.

When applying ice to an injured area, do not apply the ice directly to the skin or body. Instead, wrap the ice in a towel or paper towel before applying. It is suggested that ice is applied to an injured area for 15-20 minutes after an injury occurs, but no longer.

Compression: Compression is also important for post-injury treatment. Compression helps to reduce and limit overall swelling. Compression also occasionally works to ease the pain. Wrapping an injured area in a bandage is a good way to provide consistent compression to an injured area.

Elevation: Elevating an injured area after an injury occurs can also help to control overall swelling. Elevating is most effective when the injured area of the body is raised above heart level. This helps to control blood flow to the area, and thus reduce swelling.

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