Common Workout Injuries and How to Prevent Them

Infographic on Tips for Working Out Safely
Regular exercise makes you mentally sharp and happy but your physical body sometimes suffers. If you have aches and pains, slow down or stop, and let yourself rest and recover.

Exercise injury occurs when physical harm or damage is done to one or multiple parts of your body, for example, when you twist your foot when jumping, thus damaging your ankle, or put too much weight on the barbell and pull a muscle in your lower back. The injury can be caused by a single event during exercise (fall), or sustained over a longer period (wear and tear of a tendon tissue).

Exercising is important for our overall well-being because it keeps us mentally and physically healthy. Many of us like challenging ourselves to see what we are capable of (it feels good, too!). However, it's important to be wary of injuries, as they can lead to ongoing complications. This 14-year-long study on injuries sustained in fitness facilities found that the main cause of injuries is due to overexertion (both in the free weights area and group exercise classes).

Today we look at common workout injuries, what exercises or activities cause them, and how to prevent them and workout safely.

Close-up Of Person's Hand Holding Ice Gel Pack On Ankle
A sprain occurs when the strong ligaments stretch beyond their limit and tear. You often see swelling and bruising of the affected area.

Strains and sprains

We often use those two terms interchangeably but they don’t have the same meaning. A strain occurs when the muscle is overstretched or torn and the tendon is affected (tendon attaches bone to muscle). We should call it muscle pull.

Strains can happen in any muscle however they most commonly occur in:

  • Hamstrings (back of thigh);
  • Quadriceps (front of thigh);
  • Groin muscles (between stomach and thigh);
  • Lower back;
  • Rotator cuff (shoulder);

Exercises performed too fast, with too much load, or with incorrect technique can lead to strain. The best way to avoid strains is to do a thorough warm-up before your exercise session, learn the correct technique, and always listen to your body.

A sprain occurs when the ligament (connecting tissue between joints) is damaged or torn and is frequent in:

  • Knees;
  • Elbows;
  • Wrists;
  • Shoulders;
  • Ankles;

Just like with strains, there is no one type of exercise that causes it, and the best way to prevent them is to warm up properly and not to exercise when tired.

More information about strains, sprains, and other soft tissue injuries can be found in our Resource Library.

Stress fractures

A stress fracture may happen if you push through the pain of a strain or sprain and the bone becomes vulnerable to damage. You are at a higher risk if you play contact sports or do high-impact training (for example, bodyweight HIIT classes or heavy lifting),

Bone fractures most commonly occur in:

  • Arms;
  • Legs;
  • Feet;

To prevent stress fractures, wear protective gear when you play contact sports, use proper footwear and consider focusing on strength training in the gym to make your muscles stronger. Also, get enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet - these two nutrients are important for bone health.

Joint dislocations

A dislocation occurs when two bones get separated where they meet at a joint. It could happen when you collide with someone and fall on your arm heavily when you play sports, or when you exercise in the gym with too much weight and incorrect technique.

For example, incorrectly performed barbell shoulder press sometimes leads to dislocated shoulder when the top of your arm slips out of your shoulder joint and it can move in any direction.

You can dislocate almost any joint:

  • Knee;
  • Hip;
  • Ankle;
  • Elbow;
  • Jaw;
  • Finger and toe joints;

If you want to prevent dislocations, take care to avoid falls, use protective gear when you play contact sports, and keep exercising regularly to make your muscles and tendons around the joint strong. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight to not put extra pressure on the bones.

Once a joint is dislocated, physical therapy can help prevent dislocations in the future.

Plantar fasciitis and shin splints

Plantar fasciitis and shin splints are not the same conditions but they are both injuries of those who walk and/or run a lot.

Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the muscle on the bottom of the foot. This happens as a result of overuse (remember the time when you had to walk all day and the bottoms of your feet were sore afterwards?).

Plantar fasciitis can be prevented by stretching your feet and arches before running and by investing in high-quality shoes.

You know you have shin splints when you feel pain just above the ankle along the bone in the front of your leg and this pain stops when you stop walking or slow down. Shin splints are not a chronic condition - you will stop getting them when the stress is over.

Some of the ways to prevent shin splints are:

  • Stretching calves and hamstrings.
  • Increasing activity gradually and not doing too much if you know your body is not prepared.
  • Exercising (running) on soft surfaces so that your body absorbs less shock. Less shock = less pain afterwards.
  • Hip strengthening - strong hip muscles can absorb that shock, too, thus taking it off your lower legs and feet.
Low section of female athlete suffering from knee pain while sitting on track during sunny day
Even though Runner’s Knee is a common injury among runners, it can happen to anyone who is into cycling, skiing, playing football, and even going to the gym and group exercise classes.

Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

Runner’s knee is dull pain around the front of the knee and is called a Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. Even though the name suggests that it is a runners’ injury, it is not just that. Anyone who does activities that repeatedly stress the knees can get Runner’s Knee symptoms.

For example, cycling, playing football, or skiing. Exercises like lunges or jumping can cause that, too.

To prevent Runner’s Knee:

  • Keep your thigh muscles strong.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Invest in appropriate shoes.
  • Run or exercise on softer surfaces.
  • Progress your exercise routine gradually.

Tendonitis

Tendonitis is a swelling and inflammation of a tendon after it is injured. The most common injury causes are overuse and repetitive movement and the main symptoms are joint pain and stiffness.

Tendonitis can occur in any of the tendons but the most common sites are:

  • Shoulders (called Swimmer’s shoulder - one of the rotator cuff tendons is inflamed).
  • Elbows (Tennis elbow - affects outer side of the elbow; Golfer’s elbow - affects inner side of the elbow).
  • Wrists (De Quervain’s syndrome - back of the wrist).
  • Knees (Jumper’s knee - front of the knee).
  • Heels (Achilles tendonitis - back of the ankle & heel).

You don’t have to play tennis or golf or be a swimmer to have the above-mentioned conditions. Quite often, it occurs as a result of doing the same exercises for months and even years and not switching up the routine.

The best way to avoid tendonitis is to vary your workouts but if you already have tendonitis - take a break from exercises that cause pain. For example, it may be better to avoid push-ups and pull-ups when experiencing Tennis elbow pain.

Conclusion

Most injuries can be prevented by simply following the guidelines and rules on how to protect yourself when you play sports, do bodyweight exercises or train with weights in the gym.

Some of the best ways to minimise the risk of any injury are to:

  • Improve your full body strength so that your muscles, ligaments and tendons are less likely to get strained or sprained.
  • Switch up your exercise routine to avoid or delay wear and tear injuries such as tendonitis.
  • Avoid training when you are tired and let your body rest and recover instead.

However, it is not always possible to avoid injury therefore it is crucial to know how to deal with injuries as and when they happen. To find out how to prevent, identify, and manage exercise injuries from deteriorating further, head to one of our First Aid Courses.

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