Play Smarter, Not Harder: Simple Steps to Avoid Injuries Caused by Fatigue

Jeffrey A. Orr, MD
Jeffrey A. Orr, MD


Injuries from fatigue and overexertion can stop winter fun in its tracks.

We hear so many injury stories that start with, “It was the last run of the day” on the slopes, or “I was going for one more set” at the gym, or “I only had to push it for the last mile to get to the top.” These are all examples of the desire to push ourselves to our limits—and sometimes a little beyond. In the winter, whether it’s a snowshoe hike or shoveling the driveway, the drive to push ourselves a little past our limits can have high consequences. Often, injuries occur at the end of an activity, when fatigue is the highest.

Overexertion has been studied across many groups, including elite athletes, military cadets, and even horses. It can be difficult to define, as there are multiple signs and symptoms that present themselves with overexertion and fatigue.

Although we may not have a single biological threshold to indicate the onset of overexertion, the most common symptom is the feeling of decreased performance.

Decreased performance is typically observed when your physical form breaks down, your reaction to the activity and timing is off, or your balance is compromised. It is during this time that routine activities become difficult and injuries become more likely.

Here are three simple ways to help avoid injury from fatigue and overexertion this winter:

Maintain a good baseline activity. Staying active year-round can help muscles and joints be prepared to respond to winter activities.

Warm up and cool down. A warm-up preps your body for exercise by increasing your heart rate and blood flow to your muscles. Once your muscles are warm, they’re ready for stretching. Commit to stretching before and after activities. Stretching increases flexibility, which becomes even more important as you age so that you can maintain agility and balance. A cool-down helps your heart rate return to normal, again at a gradual pace.

Don’t ignore warning signs. Difficulty catching your breath, joint pain, muscle cramping, and mental fatigue can all indicate it’s time to call it a day.

While there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of injury from winter activities, following these simple steps can help keep you out of the emergency room and enjoying the outdoors all season long.

Dr. Jeff Orr is a board-certified surgeon and physician with Tahoe Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. In addition to seeing Barton Health patients in South Lake Tahoe, Carson City, and Incline Village, he is a medical provider for the U.S. Ski Team. For more information on treatments and services that help the community stay active all year long, visit



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