Exercise and soft tissue injury
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Once the almost exclusive domain of the orthopaedic surgeon, sports injuries are now being seen with increasing frequency by other specialists, including rheumatologists. It is therefore important for rheumatologists to be able to diagnose and manage the various musculoskeletal conditions that are associated with physical activity. Soft tissue injuries are a very common cause of morbidity in both competitive and recreational athletes. Most of these conditions are provoked by muscle-tendon overload (or overuse) that is usually the result of excessive training or improper training techniques. However, despite an emerging literature on the natural history of soft tissue overuse syndromes, relatively little is known about the causes, incidence and outcome of many of these injuries. Of the methodologically robust epidemiological studies that have been done, most have focused on habitual distance runners. In this population, it has been reported that the incidence of injury can be as high as 50% or more, and that overtraining and the presence of previous injury are the most significant predictors of future injury. In other popular forms of exercise, such as walking, swimming, cycling, aerobics and racquet sports, injuries are also reported with high frequency but, to date, no prospective studies have examined actual incidences in these populations, and risk factors for injury in these activities remain speculative. Several of the more commonly occurring soft tissue injuries (such as rotator cuff tendinitis, lateral and medial epicondylitis, patellar tendinitis, the iliotibial band friction syndrome, Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis) exemplify the overuse concept and are therefore highlighted in this review. The management of these, and most other, exercise-related soft tissue injuries is directed towards promptly restoring normal function and preventing re-injury.
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