What to Know About Overexertion

Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on February 27, 2024
4 min read

Overexertion can occur when you push yourself too hard physically. It is the third most common cause of accidental injuries in the United States. 

It can cause inflammation, leading to pain and discomfort. If it is not addressed, overexertion can lead to tearing or overstretching in muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

The most common types of overexertion injuries are in the shoulders, back, and knees. However, you can also get them in other parts of the body.

There are a few different ways you can overexert your muscles. Overexertion can happen at home or at work. Any time you are lifting something or doing an unusual physical activity, you should pay attention to how you are moving your body.

The most common industries for overexertion injuries are the service industry and trade industries, along with transportation and utilities. However, the events and activities that may cause overexertion are different for everyone. You must listen to your body and know your limits. 

Improper posture. If you are doing a physical task or lifting something with bad posture, you may be more at risk for injury.

Working in an improper space. If you do not have enough room to move properly for the task at hand, you can injure yourself.

Carrying too much weight. Be mindful if you're not used to carrying heavy loads. When you carry something that is over your capacity, you are at risk of overexertion.

Using worn-out tools. When tools become worn out, you may have to hold them improperly or use more force. 

Repetitive motion. Doing the same movement over and over without enough break time puts you at a higher risk of overexertion.

The most common overexertion injuries affect the neck and back, often contributing to chronic pain in the upper and lower back. If you get an overexertion injury, you can be at a higher risk for re-injury, even after you have healed. This can affect both your personal and professional life in the following ways:

  • You may need to take time off work to allow for healing.
  • While working a physical job, you may need to perform a different job function while you are healing.
  • You must practice safe form while playing sports and working out. 

Using proper lifting and work techniques can keep you healthy so you can enjoy physical activity in all areas of life.

You may be nearing overexertion while performing a task if you:

  • Feel dizzy
  • Feel sore
  • Feel too hot
  • Get too sweaty
  • Have a high pulse rate
  • Have abdominal pain
  • Experience fluttering heart 
  • Have chest pain

If you experience the feeling of a fluttering heart for more than 30 minutes, or chest pain, call 911 right away. 

There are many things you can do both at home, at play, and at work to prevent overexertion.

Warm up. Before doing physical activity, stretch and move your body to warm up your muscles.

Take small breaks. When doing repetitive motion or a lot of lifting, take a lot of small breaks. Even a break of 20 seconds to stretch the muscles you are using can be helpful.

Lift properly.  When lifting anything, it is important to have proper posture and form. Follow these steps to avoid overexertion:

  • Stand close to what you are lifting.
  • Place your feet wide apart to give yourself a solid base.
  • Bend your knees instead of your hips and back.
  • Tighten your core muscles to help you lift the object.
  • Use your leg muscles to lift, not your back.
  • Don't twist your body while holding something heavy. Turn your whole body, including your feet. Your nose and toes should always be pointing in the same direction while lifting.
  • When putting down a heavy object, bend with your knees so you squat to put it down instead of hinging at the hips.

Ask for help. When dealing with a bulky or heavy item, ask someone to help you. Or, if no one is available, try to take multiple trips to carry heavy items instead of trying to carry them all at once.

Raise work tables to waist height. If your work table is too low, you may put yourself at risk of over-exertion from bending over too much. Raise your work table to the proper height to avoid this.

Maintain your tools or get new ones. Use tools in good condition to avoid overexerting yourself.

Use available equipment to move heavy objects. If available, use tools meant for lifting assistance. This could be anything from a lifting belt that gives you more core support, to machinery that lifts items for you and carries them where they need to go.

Avoid carrying things that are too heavy. Everyone's limit for how much they can carry is different. If you do not regularly carry heavy objects or work out, what you can safely carry may be less than someone else. Listen to your body, and ask for help when needed.