We have enough reasons to not workout already, such as being tired or too busy with work or social engagements. But let’s not let this one become one of them: injury. Injuries can sideline the most well intentioned of us, and it’s not just bad luck that determines who gets hurt. Most of the time, it’s how we perform our exercises that contributes to these common injuries.
In my physical therapy practice, I often tell my patients and clients that we are all “natural cheaters”, meaning that we look for the easy way out or the easier way to do something. Sometimes this is ok, but most of the time we end up compensating. Many of these compensations can lead to excessive stress to specific body parts, leading to some very common injuries.
Here’s a brief intro to 7 of the more common injuries that can happen in the weight room, with tips to prevent them.
1. Disc Herniation (& Degenerative Disc Disease)
Disc herniations are often caused by poor lifting mechanics. When a patient tells me that he got hurt picking something up, this is one of the first things on my diagnostic list. Possible symptoms of a disc herniation can include localized back pain as well as numbness or tingling that travels down into the legs.
Another possibility is degenerative disc disease, which is a common term that doctors use to describe “excessive wear and tear on the spine”.
Both disc herniations and degenerative disc disease can be exacerbated by chronic poor posture, especially when lifting and exercising.
By placing your spine in the correct position, you’ll experience the least amount of stress to your discs and spine, and your core muscles will be able to engage more effectively.
Prevention Tips: If you stand up straight with your back against a wall, you should have a small natural curve at your low back. Keep this curve! This position is often called a “neutral spine” and should be maintained during all strengthening exercises. When lifting, focus on hinging at the hips and engaging your core to maintain a strong, neutral spine. Also, be wary of exercises like the Russian twist which puts a lot of stress on your discs.
2. IT Band Syndrome
This injury is very common for runners, especially if your form is suboptimal. The IT Band is a thick fibrous ligament on the side of your thigh that goes down to the outside of your knee. An injury here can cause pain anywhere from your outside hip bone down to your knee.
Prevention Tips: To help decrease stress and injury to the IT Band, make sure to keep your knees aligned with your toes and watch that your hips remain neutral (don’t let your pelvis drop to the opposite side) when you run or do single leg exercises.
Perform exercises to strengthen your glutes, which can help take stress away from the IT band by helping you strengthen and stabilize your hip and knee joints.
Best Exercise: The single leg hip hinge.
Additionally, you can roll out your IT Band on a foam roller, get a deep tissue massage, or get cup therapy (which is my favorite way of loosening up) to temporarily decrease some symptoms of IT Band Syndrome.
3. Achilles Tendonitis
Achilles tendonitis is another common injury for runners and is indicated by pain in the back part of the heel up to the Achilles tendon. These symptoms can linger and are often exacerbated by running, especially uphill or on sand.
Tendon problems frequently take a long time to heal. If you have Achilles tendonitis, the first step is to rest to decrease the inflammation, allowing the tendon to calm down. Then, gradually build up the strength in the calf muscle by doing heel raises.
Prevention Tips: Stretch your ankles and calves regularly, especially before running or doing leg exercises similar to the squat.
Best Warm-Up Exercise: Jump rope! This exercise will help strengthen the calves and keep you quick on your feet.
4. SLAP Tear
Most people have heard of rotator cuff injuries, but another part of the shoulder that commonly gets injured in athletes is the labrum. A SLAP tear (which stands for Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior) can occur from both acute trauma and repetitive stress from motions like throwing or overhead lifting.
Be careful of workouts and exercises that repetitively stress your arms overhead or when fully rotated. If you can’t raise your arm without pain, feel that one or both shoulders are weak, or experience popping/catching in certain movements, visit a health practitioner to get a more complete diagnosis. Some labral tears can heal over time, but some require more aggressive treatments like rehab or surgery.
Prevention Tips: When people think about exercising the shoulder, they don’t usually think about the entire shoulder girdle. This includes the shoulder blade which absolutely needs to move to help support the shoulder.
Make sure to warm up your upper back before working out, and only exercise through a range-of-motion in which you can move your arm without pain. Always focus on keeping the optimal shoulder position when doing any upper body exercise: shoulders down and away from the ears!
Also, avoid strengthening movements where your arms are placed behind you, and avoid painful movements with your arms overhead.
Best Exercises: Incline dumbbell presses, reverse flies.
5. Tennis Elbow (Lateral Elbow Tendonitis)
This overuse injury is often caused by over-gripping, and can tend to linger like other tendon problems. Symptoms can include an ache on the outside of your elbow, and when you straighten your arm and pull your palm towards you, you’ll feel a stretch along the outside of the forearm muscle. Similar to Achilles problems, you’ll need to rest at first to calm down the inflammation before gradually strengthening your gripping muscles. You can alleviate some of the symptoms by regularly massaging and stretching the muscles, which can help increase blood flow. As the symptoms calm down, you can gradually increase the workload again with wrist exercises. Make sure that you don’t push through pain, which may exacerbate your symptoms and make things worse.
Prevention Tips: Start your workouts with heavy gripping exercises such as farmer’s carries. This will warm up your entire body while building your grip strength. Also, incorporating exercises like crawling and pushups can help to maintain wrist flexibility, which will help keep the muscles in your forearm flexible.
6. Hamstring Pulls & Tears
As soon as it happens, you’ll know it – a sharp, shooting pain in the back of the thigh. This injury is often caused by explosive activities like sprinting or jumping, which put a high demand on the hamstring muscles. Some hamstring tears require a full year or two to completely recover from. And unfortunately, re-tears are very common.
Prevention Tips: Before your sprint or plyometric workout, be sure to do a thorough warm-up, including easier sets of your exercises, and accelerations if you’re sprinting.
Also, make sure you maintain optimal flexibility in your hamstrings by not only stretching them, but strengthening them with exercises like the deadlift. Strengthen the glutes as well, as they significantly help to support the hamstrings when you perform sprints and jumps.
7. Patellar Tendonitis (& Knee Pain)
The patella, or kneecap, is often a source of pain for athletes of every sport.
Patellar tendonitis is a common injury characterized by pain at the patellar tendon, which is just below the kneecap. If you’re experiencing this, you definitely want to rest the knee and avoid stressing it while it’s inflamed. When the inflammation has decreased, focus on gradually building up the strength of your legs without flaring it up again. Visit a therapist who can show you how to progressively rebuild the load on the quads and the patellar tendon with eccentric exercises.
On the other hand, if your pain is located at the front of the knee, one of the first things I’ll look at is how you squat.
Most trainers focus on keeping the knees behind the toes during a squat. While this adjustment can decrease some stress to the knee, it’s much more important that the knees are in the correct alignment with the hips and ankles (when looking at the leg from the front). Ideally, the middle of your knee should track over your 2nd toe. Practicing proper form will minimize other stresses to the knee that occur when your knee caves inwards.
Prevention Tips: Keep the middle of the knee inline with the 2nd toe during every leg exercise. Whether you’re doing squats, lunges, step-ups, etc , watch where your knees track and make immediate adjustments! This will help decrease any lateral stresses to the knee, which can exacerbate knee problems.
Targeting your glutes during your workout is another great way to help decrease stress to the knee. Strengthening and engaging your hip muscles can help ensure proper knee alignment, thereby helping take the load off your knees.
By incorporating some key exercises into your workout and focusing on proper form, you can build a more injury-resistant body. Starting each workout with a thorough warm-up, correcting your muscular imbalances, and including flexibility training goes a long way. Train smart and stay injury free.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section below!