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Overexertion: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

What Is Overexertion?

To put it simply, overexertion is the state of being physically and mentally pushed beyond one’s limits. This relates to your physical capability, age, strength, and tolerance. 


Overexertion injuries are usually caused by repetitive motion, such as prolonged typing, lifting or handling heavy objects, extreme physical labor, or working in an awkward position (poor posture while performing a task, prolonged bending at the waist, reaching above the shoulders). As a non-impact injury of excessive physical effort, it is linked to pulling, pushing, lifting, holding, carrying, turning, and throwing.

In terms of overexertion injuries, we refer to the two types of such injuries: strains and sprains. Any strain injury is the tearing or stretching of the muscle or tendons; and sprains are stretching or tearing of the ligament. It is important to understand and recognize the signs of overexertion to prevent further complications.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Overexertion?

There are signs alerting you to slow it down and take a break or rest from your current activity. Overexertion symptoms should be taken seriously to avoid more serious injuries.

1. Difficulty Speaking

If you cannot speak because you are breathing too roughly, slow down or take a break.

2. Pain

During the task you may have a form of pain such as a pinch, tightness, or a throbbing or burning sensation. At this point, stop the activity and rest.

3. Dehydration

A dry mouth, fatigue, and dizziness are all signs of dehydration, slow down and replenish with fluids.

4. Fatigue

In addition to feeling worn out, you may experience dizziness, irritability, and become irrational. This requires not only limiting yourself, but also being mindful of the amount of rest and sleep you get.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience difficulty breathing with dizziness and chest pains or pressure. These can be signs of an impending heart attack.

Image of person experiencing back pain after lifting boxes.

Treatment of Overexertion Injuries

Immediate treatment for overexertion is to stop the task or activity and rest. Take stock of any signs and symptoms of overexertion and treat the symptom. Use ice or heat compresses for muscle and join soreness or stiffness. With muscle knots or tension, have a warm bath infused with Epsom salts for relief.

Overexertion Prevention Tips

   At Work:

  • Plan and understand the job or task before attempting it.
  • Limit the weight of any objects you are handling, especially when carrying or lifting.
  • Take frequent short breaks when performing repetitive tasks.
  • Maintain proper posture when walking, sitting, and standing.
  • Keep hydrated by drinking water throughout the day.
  • Push instead of pulling when possible.
  • Follow proper procedure when working with machines and large objects.
  • Use appropriate equipment or machinery for task.
  • Use ergonomic workstations.
  • Avoid working or exercising in extreme temperatures.

At Home:

  • Stretch before and after exercise workouts.
  • Exercise regularly, including strength training.
  • Get proper rest and sleep every night.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.

The only way to avoid overexertion is to be alert to personal limits.

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