What is an injury?

It may seem obvious to define or identify what an injury is, but alas this is not the case. There are 2 main kinds of injury; the acute and the misuse injury. Misuse injuries are often referred to as overuse injuries, but overuse is only one element of misuse.  An acute injury is usually clear, but misuse injuries are more complex. It took me a while to realise that I was experiencing a string of injuries. There is also an overlap between degeneration of the body and injuries. Clearly, as we become older and our bodies are not as resilient then we are more prone to injury. However, if you look after yourself as you age then you are less likely to experience misuse injuries and even young people can experience an overuse injury, so everything cannot always be blamed on the ageing process. Age is a risk factor for injury, but there are a number of other important risk factors such as posture.

Things become even more complex when the concept of injury is applied to mental health. I would argue that there is no reason why it shouldn’t be applied, because there is no reason to assume that the mechanisms that apply to our bodies do not also apply to our minds. The concept of trauma i.e. acute injury is readily applied to mental health, so why can’t the notion of misuse injury also be applied?

On this website I mainly focus on misuse injuries apart from acute head injury. I refer to misuse injuries mainly as overuse injuries because this is the most commonly used term.

Within these 2 main categories of injury – the acute and the overuse there are a further 2 subcategories – the acute and the chronic. So there are acute, chronic acute, acute overuse and chronic overuse injuries. Within these subcategories there are other possible variations – the mixed acute and mixed overuse, i.e. injuries that have a combination of acute and misuse elements. Similarly as mentioned above there are sometimes degenerative components as well. Examples of these categories are as follows: a fracture of the leg caused by a traumatic blow is an acute injury, however if it does not heal it becomes a chronic acute injury. Similarly a repetitive strain injury of the hands that has not healed becomes a chronic misuse injury. If you receive a traumatic force on a part of the body that has a misuse injury (e.g. a blow on the shins where you have shin splints) then you have a mixed acute misuse injury.

Why does it matter?

Why does it matter whether something is an injury or simple degeneration of the body? It matters immensely because your approach will be very different. An injury may be completely reversed through rest and rehabilitation. Even if the problem is partially an injury and partially degeneration you will have a much better chance of rehabilitation if you address the injury element. It also matters because you may need to change how you do things to prevent further injury. In terms of the other sub-categories the nature of the injury should determine the management and treatment approach.