Whatever your fitness goals, getting injured surely isn't one of them. In this article we cover the most common gym related injuries and explain how to avoid them.
Two common reasons for gym injuries are:
- Poor posture during the working day, which eventually weakens your entire musculoskeletal structure.
- Doing too much too soon in terms of reps and weight.
A minor sprain may be a reason to miss a workout for a day or two, but without precautions, there is the potential for serious injury and long-term complications. Do no t risk what could be a permanent injury or disability trying to achieve overnight success. Most injuries are a result of long-term lifestyle choices that leave people with weakened and unbalanced muscles groups. Add the common mistake of doing too much-too soon, with an all or nothing mentality, and injury is almost guaranteed. Making sure you are in the right position, use the correct weights for your fitness level, and move correctly to avoid injury.
TOP TIP. Get the basics right from the start:
- Make sure you're using the correct technique and try to think of yourself as your own trainer by not making your goals too personal. Remove your ego and set realistic, achievable goals.
- Ask questions. Learn how to properly use the equipment, know how much weight you can safely start using at each point, and ask a gym instructor/personal trainer, or at least an experienced gym friend to check your form.
To avoid suffering from one of five common gym-related injuries, build safe and stable foundation for future success.
Commonly seen gym related injuries involve foot and ankle injuries, knee injuries, lower back injuries, shoulder injuries and neck injuries.
FOOT AND ANKLE
Achilles Tendonopathy – inflammation and/or degeneration of the Achilles tendon.
Plantar Faciitis – inflammation of the connective tissue (fascia) in the sole/ plantar aspect of the foot. Usually presents as heel or medial arch pain.
Stress fractures/shin splints – micro fracture(s) of the shin bone caused by repetitive overuse.
It is essential you wear correct footwear with suitable arch and heel support. By helping spread the impact to the whole foot, you'll prevent problems like plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis/tendonopathy, shin splints, anterior compartment syndrome (a compression in the front of the ankle), lateral compression syndrome (a compression at the side of the ankle) and bunions.
Calf stretching is very important in the prevention and cure of Achilles Tendonopathies and plantar fasciitis. The 2 calf muscles gastrocnemius and soleus combine to form the Achilles tendon so both muscles need to be stretched.
A common foot and ankle injury to new gym members are stress fractures. Stress fractures occur when individuals do too much too soon, without building a foundation. By not allowing your feet and ankles to adapt to the stress of loading and unloading the bones, and not allowing enough recovery time between workouts, stress continues building on weak bone structure. Stress fractures can be prevented by starting slowly with any new weight bearing activities such as running on a treadmill, honestly evaluate your activity levels before starting-know what your limits are. Follow a sensible program of gradually increasing your workout by no more than ten percent week by week. If that is a struggle, do less or stay at the same level for an extra week before increasing your workouts further. Be sure to wear proper shoes. Many stores specializing in running or sports shoes can assist in finding the right shoe for your activity and foot. Treatments for stress fractures include modifying workout to avoid weight bearing until pain lessens and the use of a stiff soled shoe for several weeks. Severe cases require the use of a cast or crutches. Healing can be a long slow process.
Ligament Injuries – usually caused by twisting forces. Injuring the anterior crucuate ligament (ACL) is a significant injury and usually requires surgery. The medial and lateral collateral ligaments are outside the knee joint and can usually be managed with local Physiotherapy treatment and rehab.
Cartilage/Meniscus – can be caused by twisting the knee especially once the knee is under load such as when squatting. Can result in ‘locking’ of the knee.
Muscle – The quads, hamstrings and calf muscles all attach around the knee region. Injury to any of these muscles or their tendons can subsequently cause knee pain. (A tendon is where the muscle attaches to the bone).
Tendon (quadriceps tendon, Patella tendon) – Both located at the front of the knee. Quads tendon above the kneecap, patella tendon below the kneecap. Can become aggravated and inflamed with repetitive overuse.
Most non structural gym related knee injuries are actually caused by imbalances elsewhere. We don't use our hip muscles during the day if your job is desk based, the result can actually be injury to the knee. This is because if your feet are not stable, due to improper footwear, and our hip muscles are not strong, the knee absorbs all the stress. Often ‘knee’ strengthening exercises such as, leg extensions, curls, and presses don't help resolve the problem because they don't strengthen the muscles of the feet and hips. Exercises including bridging, ‘clam’ and lunges may help. With a lunge your hip and ankle are bending together, stabilizing and strengthening the knee. (Strength and stability). To get even more benefit, do lunges both forwards and backwards, then side to side.
Prevention includes gradually working to strengthen core, hip, and foot and ankle muscles as all these work together to assist the knee in tracking in proper alignment. Treatment for ‘simple’knee pain (soft tissue injury) is standard R.I.C.E procedure (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevate). If there is extreme pain, swelling or deformity this suggests the knee injury is more serious and you should consult a doctor. You may be referred to Physiotherapy at this stage for rehabilitation or onto an orthopaedic consultant if further investigations (scans) or surgery are required.
Deadlifts, squats, lunges and other lifting activities can all lead to lower back pain and injuries. Even something like the rowing machine or running can cause lower back pain if your technique isn’t correct. Low back pain can be excruciating and even cause issues with activities of daily living. To avoid it, work to perfect your technique. Know the balance between “good pushing” and pushing too much. Musculoskeletal pain should never be a part of working out.
The risk of gym related lower back injuries is highest when first beginning an exercise routine. Moving too quickly and expecting weak muscles in your back, hips, and core to support your back and maintain proper spinal alignment is a sure formula for injury. Failure to warm up before beginning a workout, attempting to lift too much weight before you have built up a base, poor posture, and lack of regular exercise leads to lower back injuries in and outside the gym. Acute lower back injuries can occur when time is not taken to work up to higher weights used in many gym workouts. Overuse of muscles in the back causes tiny tears in muscle tissue, without proper recovery time between workouts, those microscopic tears do not have time to heal and strengthen the muscle. Chronic overuse can lead to strains that are more serious or even disc pathologies that can result in low back pain as well as lower limb referral, (leg pain).
It may be impossible to eliminate the risk of ever having back pain, but taking gradual steps to strengthen the muscles supporting the back, using good posture, avoiding sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time, and scheduling weight training with days off for recovery will greatly reduce the chance of missing long-term workouts. Treatment for lower back injuries include rest, over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen, Physiotherapy treatments and gradually increasing exercise to strengthen the muscles of the lower back and core. In most cases, these steps will relieve lower back pain. If pain continues including lower limb referral (Pain, pins and needles, numbness or weakness in your leg(s) you need to seek medical opinion with regard to further investigation such as an MRi scan to guide management.
Sub acromial Impingement - Pinching of the structure(s) within the sub acromial space of the shoulder. Can be the sub acromial bursa or rotator cuff tendons.
Rotator Cuff Tendonopathy – Inflammation and/or degeneration of one or more of the rotator cuff tendons. Can lead to narrowing the sub acromial space and cause sub acromial impingement.
Acromioclavicular (AC)/ Sternoclavicular (SC) injuries – Usually caused by impact injuries whilst playing sports such as rugby. Can be aggravated by heavy pressing movements such as bench press.
Instability – laxity of the stabilising ligaments and/or rotator cuff tendons. The shoulder is not a very stable joint and relies heavily on the rotator cuff tendons to maintain the head of the humerus (top of the arm) in the joint.
The shoulder is an extremely mobile joint at the expense of stability. As a result the shoulder is prone to gym related injuries.
Desk based jobs will mean you sit in a protracted posture (rounded shoulders) during the day. This narrows the sub acromial space which is the space within which some very important tendons sit. With time these tendons can become aggravated and inflamed
Then you go to the gym and do chest press, shoulder press, pushups etc all also with your arms rotated in, (Internal rotation of the shoulder joint) The outcome? Supraspinatus tendonitis, an overuse injury of the rotator cuff.
The large range of movement the shoulder has makes it at risk for injuries due to the repetitive movements during exercise. Rotator cuff injury, inflammation including tendinitis and bursitis, and compression of the bursa (shock absorbing sack of fluid) and tendons that leads to a condition call Impingement syndrome. The cause for most shoulder injuries is over training or improper form or techniques.
Some simple guideline for preventing shoulder injuries include learning and using proper technique and form, warming up before exercising the shoulder and a routine to gradually strengthen the shoulder muscles. If injury does occur, do not try to ‘push through the pain’. Doing so could lead to a serious rotator cuff injury and can require surgery in some cases. Treating shoulder pain and injury early is vital. Early treatment options include modifying exercise, ice or heat therapy, and the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications for pain control. Treating shoulder injuries may require consulting a doctor, physiotherapist or sports injury specialist to provide a specific rehab protocol to prevent long-term damage or loss of range of movement.
Muscular – muscle tension/tightness or strain causing localised pain.
Postural – protracted (rounded) shoulders and protracted chin poke posture can lead to muscular neck pain.
Disc – derangement/prolapse/bulge of the disc on the exiting nerve root can cause local pain as well as pain into the upper limbs.
Facet joint – stiffness of the side joints/facet joints can cause restricted range of movement and pain. In some cases the exiting nerve root can be irritated causing upper limb pain.
Most people tend to sit with rounded shoulders, you get to the gym and that poor posture follows you all the way to the bench press, where the real trouble starts, when you're lying on the bench but your back isn't flush with the bench the lack of mobility and extension in your upper back will put stress on your lower back and neck.
Clearly, when doing the bench press, make sure your lower back and neck are supported properly. Finally, strengthen your mid and upper back and improve your posture. Your lower traps will help you maintain your posture and health whether you're at the office or at the gym.
Neck pain can be serious and should always be treated carefully. It might be caused from lifting. The interesting thing is that neck injuries at the gym are actually an exacerbation of other issues that are nearly constant like poor posture. When someone’s neck is out of alignment, it can impact the entire spine. The best way to avoid neck injuries is to work on posture all the time, perhaps sign up for a yoga class and never, ever use a bench press without a spotter.
Most neck injuries are muscle strain or over use. Tension from maintaining your neck in one position to long can cause pain in the neck and shoulders. Minor neck sprains may also result from twisting, attempting to lift too heavy a weight, or using improper form. Major life-altering damage, such as whiplash or fractures, can also occur to the neck when safety precautions and proper form is not consistently used.
Preventing neck injuries begins with awareness. Remain aware of safety issues and also pay attention to proper form. Avoid sudden twisting or jerking movements. Know your own limits. Do not attempt heavy weights without a friend to spot for you or standby to help if needed. Always start slowly with a pre-workout warm up. Treating neck injuries vary depending on the type and severity of the injury. Minor neck pain and strains from over use respond to treatment with rest and over the counter medications , within a few days. Ice therapy may also help during the first 24-48 hours of a minor injury. Physiotherapy is also part of the treatment for neck injuries.
When an injury does occur, DO NOT dismiss it. What seems like a minor injury might be just the beginning of something more serious subsequently affecting months of training instead of a few days if managed appropriately. Listen to your body and address injuries as they arise, don’t put it off.
If you have any individual questions feel free to contact @MatTids. I will endeavour to respond to all questions.