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The Understated Injury: Overexertion

leg stretch

Overview

Highlights

  1. Pushing your body past its limits can lead to fatigue, low blood sugar, dehydration, and injuries.
  2. Most injuries related to overexertion are preventable.
  3. Avoid overexertion by learning and respecting your body’s limits, taking regular breaks from repetitive activities, sleeping well at night, and fueling your body properly throughout the day.

Injuries related to overexertion account for millions of emergency room visits each year, reports Kansas State University. Most of those injuries are preventable. To lower your risk of experiencing them, avoid pushing your body past its limits. Learn how to prevent physical overexertion, fatigue, low blood sugar, and dehydration.

Physical overexertion

Physical overexertion is a common cause of workers’ compensation claims. These types of injuries are usually caused by repetitive motion, such as typing, lifting heavy objects, or working in an awkward position.

The pain that these injuries cause is often acute. It will typically improve with medical care and preventative measures. But without proper treatment and prevention, acute pain from overexertion and repetitive use can become chronic. This can lead to problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis.

Physical overexertion is not just a workplace risk. Other causes of overexertion injuries include:

  • sports and exercise
  • motion control video games, such as those played on the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation Move
  • hobbies like woodworking, building, and remodeling

To avoid physical overexertion:

  • practice good posture
  • utilize ergonomic workspaces
  • lift lighter loads and use proper lifting techniques
  • decrease the distance you must stretch to lift a heavy object
  • take frequent breaks from physically repetitive and challenging activities
  • include strength training and stretching in your regular exercise routine
  • know and respect your body’s limits

Fatigue

There are many causes of fatigue. Pushing your body or mind too hard for too long can leave you feeling exhausted. Not getting enough sleep is another common culprit.

“Burning your candle at both ends” is an unsustainable and unhealthy way to live. Sleep and rest are essential to your health. They allow your mind and body to heal, recharge, and develop properly. Inadequate sleep can cause:

  • irritability
  • irrationality
  • depression
  • decreased cognitive function
  • increased risk of mistakes and accidents
  • increased risk of falling asleep while you’re doing other activities
  • increased blood pressure
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • irregular breathing
  • dizziness

To lower your risk of fatigue:

  • get about seven to eight hours of sleep a day, if you’re an adult
  • go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
  • establish a regular bedtime routine
  • reduce your caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol intake
  • reduce your sugar intake
  • get regular exercise

Beware of sleep medications. They’re addictive and may not provide a restful night’s sleep. Consult your doctor if you think you need medication to help you sleep. They may encourage you to try lifestyle changes or other strategies first.

Hypoglycemia

Have you ever had such a busy day that you forgot to eat? That can contribute to overexertion. In some cases, it can have serious health consequences.

Not eating enough can cause hypoglycemia, which is commonly known as low blood sugar. The symptoms of hypoglycemia can differ from one person to another and range from mild to severe. You may experience any of the following symptoms when your blood sugar gets too low:

  • hunger pangs
  • headache
  • tiredness
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • nervousness
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • labored breathing
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • difficulty sleeping

More serious complications can sometimes occur, especially if you have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes. These complications can include:

  • seizure
  • coma
  • death

To avoid hypoglycemia, remember to:

  • eat regularly
  • always carry a snack with you
  • follow your doctor’s prescribed management plan if you have diabetes

Dehydration

When you’re busy, you may forget to take regular hydration breaks. This can lead to dehydration, which occurs when your body loses more water than you take in.

Thirst is often the first sign of dehydration. Other signs and symptoms can include:

  • dry mouth
  • dry eyes
  • cracked lips
  • concentrated or dark-colored urine
  • reduced sweating
  • joint pain
  • tiredness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

In some cases, severe dehydration can cause serious complications, including:

  • kidney damage
  • coma
  • death

To avoid dehydration, make sure you:

  • drink enough water and other fluids
  • replenish electrolytes lost through sweat with sports drinks or enhanced water
  • take frequent breaks from hot environments or strenuous activities
  • use a damp cloth to lower your body temperature and reduce sweating
  • avoid drinking heavily caffeinated, alcoholic, and sugary beverages, especially when you’re working out or exerting yourself

Overexertion is a common cause of dehydration, but certain diseases and infections can also lead to fluid loss. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are common causes of dehydration in children and are serious medical concerns. Seek medical attention immediately if you suspect that you or your child is experiencing significant dehydration.

The takeaway

Overexerting yourself can lead to mild to severe health problems. For example, it can cause repetitive use injuries, fatigue, low blood sugar, and dehydration. To lower your risk of these issues, recognize and respect your body’s limits. Try to:

  • take regular breaks from repetitive activities
  • get enough high-quality sleep at night
  • eat enough food throughout the day
  • drink enough water and other fluids

If you suspect you have an injury or illness caused by overexertion, contact your doctor. They can provide treatment. They can also offer tips to help you avoid similar problems in the future.

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