Finding a balance between your training load and how much your body can handle can help in your recovery.
Written by: Peter Viteritti, D.C.
Athletes often find themselves suffering from nagging injuries that don’t seem to connect to a specific trauma. There are reasons why this happens, and understanding the concept of load versus capacity can help athletes better recover and better prevent future injuries.
Simply put, all musculoskeletal injuries are the result of an imbalance between the load placed on the body and the body’s capacity to handle that load. In sports performance the two variables that impact load are volume of training and intensity of training. Capacity, on the other hand, is how much load the body can handle without damage, breakdown or dysfunction.
An athlete maintains a healthy balance when his load is less than or equal to his body’s capacity. It’s only when the physical load exceeds the body’s capacity that he will sustain injury. This load versus capacity balance applies to all of the musculoskeletal tissues of the body: muscle, tendon, ligament, cartilage, bone, disc and nerve.
Broken bones, torn ligaments or cartilage are examples of healthy tissue (normal capacity) that are subjected to excessive load during a single event. In these examples, the magnitude of the load is sufficient to break or tear the tissue and sustain an acute, traumatic injury. Fortunately, these types of sports injuries are infrequent.
The most common sports injuries, called repetitive strain injuries, occur when load slightly exceeds capacity for a prolonged period of time. This is prevalent in sports that require repetitive motions such as running, swimming and cycling.
Effective treatment increases the body’s capacity to meet the load being asked of it. During treatment, it’s important for the athlete to reduce his load, either by decreasing the volume of training, the intensity of training, or both. This combination of treatment and load management restores the load versus capacity balance.
As capacity increases, the athlete should experience a commensurate reduction in symptoms. As the symptoms start to subside, we can slowly and carefully increase the level of training. However, if the load exceeds the newly created capacity, it will exacerbate the athlete’s condition and cause a brief setback.
Competitive athletes train intensely so their load is often bumping into and sometimes exceeding their capacity. When that occurs and an injury develops, athletes should seek treatments to re-establish this load versus capacity balance such as manual and instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, therapeutic exercise and joint manipulation in conjunction with load management strategies.
It’s not enough to treat an injury with rest, over-the-counter medications and icing. If the capacity versus load balance is not restored, the injury can reoccur and develop into a chronic problem.
This piece first appeared in the December 2011 issue of Competitor Magazine.
About The Author:
Peter Viteritti, D.C., of Worcester, Mass., is a certified active release therapy specialist who is on the medical staff for national championships and Olympic teams for track and field, triathlon and other sports. You can find him at www.chirosportsmed.net.