The genetic material of all organisms is susceptible to modification. In some instances, these changes are programmed, such as the formation of DNA double strand breaks during meiotic recombination to generate gamete variety or class switch recombination to create antibody diversity. However, in most cases, genomic damage is potentially harmful to the health of the organism, contributing to disease and aging by promoting deleterious cellular outcomes. A proportion of DNA modifications are caused by exogenous agents, both physical (namely ultraviolet sunlight and ionizing radiation) and chemical (such as benzopyrene, alkylating agents, platinum compounds and psoralens), which can produce numerous forms of DNA damage, including a range of “simple” and helix-distorting base lesions, abasic sites, crosslinks and various types of phosphodiester strand breaks. More significant in terms of frequency are endogenous mechanisms of modification, which include hydrolytic disintegration of DNA chemical bonds, attack by reactive oxygen species and other byproducts of normal cellular metabolism, or incomplete or necessary enzymatic reactions (such as topoisomerases or repair nucleases). Both exogenous and endogenous mechanisms are associated with a high risk of single strand breakage, either produced directly or generated as intermediates of DNA repair. This review will focus upon the creation, consequences and resolution of single strand breaks, with a particular focus on two major coordinating repair proteins: poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase 1 (PARP1) and X-ray repair cross-complementing protein 1 (XRCC1).