Nothing can halt your training gains faster than an injury, especially one that takes you out of commission. Injuries fall into two general classes: acute injuries that come on suddenly and overuse injuries that are often due to overuse and improper form. These injuries usually come on more gradually and hang around a while.
One thing is clear – you want to avoid injury. The more serious ones can impact your training for months. In the case of injuries, prevention is still the best strategy. Here are some of the most common injuries you should be aware of and how to avoid them.
The Achilles tendon is a thick fibrous band that runs from the muscles in your calves to your heel. You place stress on this tendon when you walk, run, and jump. Not surprisingly, you’re more likely to get Achilles tendonitis, also called Achilles tendinopathy, if you run or do high-impact exercises, including plyometrics. The symptoms typically come on gradually with mild pain and tightness in the back of the calves after a workout. The symptoms are often worse in the morning when you first wake up as well. If you have severe pain in the area or if it comes on suddenly, see your doctor. You could have a ruptured Achilles tendon, a serious injury.
If you have Achilles tendonitis, it can take weeks to completely heal. You’ll need to modify your training to avoid running or jumping until the symptoms improve. To promote healing, do a series of stretching exercises to lengthen the muscles in your calves at least twice a day. Focus on upper body training until the symptoms improve. Keep in mind that the Achilles tendon becomes weaker and more prone to injury with age, so make sure you’re cross-training rather than devoting too much time to a repetitive activity like running.
How about prevention of Achilles tendinitis?
· Strengthen your calf muscles with exercises like calf raises.
· Make stretching a regular part of your training.
· Cross-train rather than focusing too much on exercises that require running and jumping.
· Make sure the shoes you wear when you run or jump are cushioned & offer adequate support
Back strains are one of the most common orthopedic injuries, whether you exercise or not. In fact, strength training can lower your risk of back sprains and strains when you work out properly. The reason back injuries are so common is improper weight-training form and bad posture. If you sit hunched over at a desk most of the day, your back is abnormally rounded. After being in this position for hours on end, your back doesn’t extend as it should when you do an upper body exercise, like overhead presses. If you arch your back when you lift overhead, it places your mid and upper back at high risk of injury.
Be aware that certain exercises are more likely to lead to a back strain than others. These include overhead presses, bent-over rows, bench press, and deadlifts. Invest time in learning proper technique for these exercises and ALL exercises that you do. Focus a bit less on training the superficial muscles that make you look good and more on the core and deep stabilizing muscles that support your spine. A strong core will help keep your pelvis neutral when you lift.
Shoulder problems are one of the most common injuries that weightlifters experience. Two of the most common are shoulder impingement and rotator cuff tears. With the former, overuse and incorrect lifting overhead causes the rotator tendons in the shoulder region to become inflamed as they run between the acromion bone in the shoulder and the bursa. With the latter, the four smaller muscles that make up the rotator cuff are either frayed, partially torn, or completely torn. A complete rotator cuff tear is a more serious injury that may often require surgery.
What causes shoulder issues when you train? Exercises where you raise your arms above your head or to the side, like overhead presses and lateral raises, are the ones most likely to lead to impingement. A classic symptom of shoulder impingement is pain in the front and side of the shoulders when you raise your arms above your head. More serious is a frayed or torn rotator cuff. This often presents with sudden onset of pain in the anterior or lateral shoulder. Both conditions are painful, especially when you lift your arm overhead. In the case of a rotator cuff tear, you may have pain at rest, even when you’re not lifting.
What causes shoulder issues related to weight training? Poor posture (hunching over at a desk) and strength imbalances are partly to blame. Imbalanced training is a factor as well. When you train your shoulders, include pushing exercises AND pulling exercises as well as exercises that specifically strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. These aren’t muscles you see but ones that are still vital for stabilizing your shoulder joint and preventing injury. Muscles that strengthen the rotator cuff muscles include forward raises, dumbbell curls with internal and external rotation, lying dumbbell internal and external rotations. Always use light weights when you work small muscles like the rotator cuff muscles.
Rotator cuff tears become more common with age due to long-term wear-and-tear. Along with strengthening the rotator cuff muscles and correcting strength imbalances, lower your risk by avoiding activities where you repetitively raise your arms above your head. For example, rotator cuff problems are more frequent in people who do specific types of work like painting houses. Again, balanced training is vital.
Patellar Tendonitis or Tendonopathy
You knew the knees had to be in there somewhere, didn’t you? Patellar tendonitis is inflammation of the tendon that connects the kneecap and the shinbone. When you have an inflamed patellar tendon, you feel pain just below the kneecap, especially when you’re active and when you bend down or straighten the leg. You’re more likely to develop it if you overdo the plyometrics or participate in a sport that emphasizes jumping, like basketball or volleyball. You can also end up with patellar tendonitis if you use poor form when you squat or do lunges. Like Achilles tendinopathy, patellar tendinopathy is associated with tiny tears in the patellar tendon and is often an overuse injury.
Unfortunately, patellar tendonitis can hang around for a while and force you to modify your routine, so it’s best to prevent it. One cause of it is inflexible leg muscles. So, do a warm-up to increase blood flow before training and stretch after a workout to help lower your risk. If you’ve had one or more episodes of patellar tendonitis, reduce the amount of high-impact exercise that you do. You can still get a good workout while placing less stress on your tendons and joints.
The Bottom Line
These aren’t the only injuries you can develop when you work out but they’re some of the most common. If you’re prone towards injury, get an evaluation by a sports medicine doctor to make sure you don’t have a biomechanical problem that makes you more susceptible.
Sports Injury Clinic. “Jumpers Knee Causes and Prevention”
Ortho Info. “Sports Injuries & Prevention”
MedLine Plus. “Rotator Cuff Injuries”
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. “Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program”
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