By Kenneth Leung, DPT
If you’re trying to lose weight and get strong, the last thing you want is an injury. We have enough reasons not to workout as it is. When you’ve found your groove with your exercise and nutrition program, an injury can sideline your progress. But here’s some critical information – usually, it’s how you perform your exercises that contributes to the most common injuries.
Strength training with poor form and technique is a major contributor to injury. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to lift properly and build a solid base of strength and stability before advancing your workouts.
Here are a few of the most frequent injuries I see as a physical therapist, and how to prevent them:
1. Herniated Disc
When a patient tells me that he got hurt picking something up, a disc herniation is one of the first things on my diagnostic list. This injury is often caused by poor lifting mechanics, and can be exacerbated by chronic poor posture. Possible symptoms of a disc herniation can include localized back pain as well as numbness or tingling that travels down into the legs.
Prevention Tips: 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. This is why it’s incredibly important to strength train with good posture and alignment.
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 put a lot of stress on your discs.
2. 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 load your arms in the overhead position or when fully rotated. If you can’t raise your arms above your head 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 thoroughly warm-up your upper back before your strength training session, and only exercise within a pain-free range-of-motion. 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.
3. Patellar Tendonitis
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.
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.
Build An Injury-Resistant Body
By incorporating some key exercises into your workout and focusing on proper form, you can build a more injury-resistant body. Some useful strategies to prevent injury include: (1) starting each workout with a thorough warm-up, (2) correcting your muscular imbalances, and (3) including flexibility training. Train smart and stay injury free.
If you’re interested, you can learn more about the most common gym injuries and get specific exercise recommendations.
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