A Lesson on the Cumulative Injury Cycle

Hey Guys!  So you all know that I have been studying a lot lately for my NASM Personal Trainer Certification.  It took me a while to get back in to the swing of studying but now I am really loving it and picking it up quickly.  What I am realizing is that I already knew quite a bit about the body and fitness.  Now I am learning little details that are tying in all the big things for me.  Most days when I study it’s like a light bulb going off in my brain and I’m thinking “Ohhh!!! That is why that happens, or that is what that means!”.  There have been a few things that I’ve wanted to share because I think it’s important that every runner, yogi, cross-fitter, Pilates guru, cardio junky or fitness addict to understand some of the basics of the body, muscles, injury and how to progress properly.

The cumulative injury cycle is the repair process that our body goes through to heal an injury.  So let’s break this down…

Cumulative Injury Cycle

Tissue Trauma.

You go to the gym and lift weights.  Or you do a hill workout on your next run.  At the end of the workout or the next morning you wake up and your legs or arms or abs are sore.  That is tissue trauma.


Tissue trauma causes inflammation.  Inflammation will activate your body’s pain receptors. This is a protective mechanism that your body has.  Once your pain receptors are activated the muscle tension at the site of the trauma will increase.

Muscle Spasm. 

When your muscle tension increases it causes your muscle spindles (basically small fibers in your muscles that are sensitive to change in length and the rate of change in length) to spasm.


When your muscle spasms it causes knots (adhesions) to form in the soft tissues of your muscles. Stay with me here, since this gets a little tricky. Adhesions are very inelastic meaning that they won’t easily stretch.  This can affect all of the soft tissue in the muscle causing it to be less elastic.

Altered Neuromuscular Control.

Yeah, I said it.  Your muscles are now tight, which can cause your body to change its movement patterns so other muscles are recruited to do the work of the injured muscle and then even more muscles are recruited to help support this process.  This can lead to changes in the way your joints move and can alter your movement patterns.  So basically this is the point where you would begin to alter your running stride to compensate for an injured leg muscle that is tight and sore.

Muscle Imbalance. 

Now your running on a leg that is tight and sore and you’re not using the correct muscles to control your movements.  If you keep running on this leg and never go to the doctor or do anything to resolve the issue there is a possibility that your soft tissue will begin to form permanent structural changes.  Read this as, you are always going to have a muscle imbalance in that leg which is going to cause you to alter your natural stride and you’ll continue to be in pain and discomfort.

So what do we do to stop this?? You need to address muscle imbalances, and add flexibility training to your fitness routine!  This will help to restore the muscles to their normal length and tension, increase your flexibility and builds strength in weak muscles.

Some stretching techniques that can be done to help with this are self-myofascial release and static stretching.  Self-myofascial release is just a fancy word for foam rolling.  Foam rolling applies force to the adhesions in your muscles causing them to straighten and break the cumulative injury cycle.  Here’s a really good YouTube Video with some examples of stretches you can do on the foam roller…

It is important to remember when you are  foam rolling that you find a tender spot in your muscle and hold the pressure there for 20 to 30 seconds to release the adhesion.  Be sure to breathe and relax!

For static stretching you want to extend your muscle to a point of tension and hold for 20 to 30 seconds.  A good recommendation is to do 1 to 3 sets for each stretch.   The standing calf stretch is a good example as are the standing psoas stretch, the kneeling hip flexor stretch and the standing adductor stretch for the legs.  For your arms and shoulders your could try the pectoral wall stretch.

Standing Static Calf Stretch

Next time you are out for a run or at the gym and wake up feeling tight and be sure to take the time to stretch and heal your body before challenging it further! You may just end up in the cumulative injury cycle! I hope you all learned a little bit about your body and have a better idea of what you can do to break the cycle.

Do you stretch after every workout?  Does this make a light bulb go off in your head? Have you experienced the cumulative injury cycle before?


7 thoughts on “A Lesson on the Cumulative Injury Cycle

  1. Heather (Where's the Beach) says:

    Oh yes, definitely experiencing this now. The crazy thing is that I do stretch always after every single workout. I also roll out with additional stretching. But somehow one thing leads to an imbalance that leads to another injury. Great post by the way!!


    • liverunloveyoga says:

      Sometimes we just are working so hard that our bodies are continually fighting off this cycle. I’m hitting higher miles now with my marathon training and I can stretch and foam roll and still feel sore and injured too! Thanks!


  2. Nicole Flieger (@NicoleFlieger) says:

    This is great info! I have been feeling my leg muscles tighten more than usual lately. I’ll have to spend some time on the foam roller to work out the adhesions(?). Also I forwarded this info to my mother b/c she has tight muscles in her hip which have altered her walking stride. Maybe daily use of the foam roller could offer some help?


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