How to Prevent Common Exercise Injuries

torn ligament. Pulled Muscles. Overuse injuries. With every new exercise routine comes a new risk of injury, whether it’s a pulled muscle while lifting, knee pain while running, or a torn tendon while doing calisthenics. With an estimated 8.6 million sports and recreational injuries per year in America, these fears are not unfounded.

But before you let that fear hold you back from starting a new exercise routine, the good news is that most sports injuries are “caused by overuse rather than trauma, which means they don’t usually require surgery,” said Dr. Matthew Matava, orthopedist and sports medicine physician at Washington University in St. Louis.

With the right precautions, you can develop a well-rounded exercise routine that maximizes benefits while minimizing the risk of injury. To get a feel for the exercises that make you most prone to injury, we reached out to a mix of sports doctors, physical therapists, and athletic trainers to get a consensus on the most common mistakes people make and how to avoid them .

The deadlift — in which a lifter begins in a squat and pulls up a weight bar to an upright, locked position — is one of the most well-known Olympic lifts. However, its simplicity is deceptive. “The deadlift is one of the greatest tools when done right, and one of the most dangerous things to do when done wrong,” said Cameron Apt, an athletic trainer at the University of Rochester.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is rounding — or hunching — the back. The deadlift begins with the lifter crouched, with a neutral spine, meaning the back is not arched or rounded from where he pulls the weight up toward his thigh. During this movement, even a slight rounding of the spine can put undue pressure on the muscles of the lower back, possibly throwing the back out or worse.

“It’s not even necessarily that people have bad form, it’s that people underestimate how much of a dynamic and hyper-focused exercise the deadlift is,” said Femi Betiku, a physical therapist at the New Jersey Center for Physical Therapy Riverdale. “They don’t pay attention for a split second, then their back twists a bit and then ‘BOOM!'”

For those less experienced, there are a number of alternative exercises that offer similar benefits and may put less stress on the lower back. These include hex bar deadlifts, where the wide hex bar surrounding the lifter reduces pressure on the lower back.

For those wanting to deadlift, paying close attention to form is important. When working with beginners, Mr. Apt often has clients practice the movement without weights. “We’re going to see people for weeks before we give them a weight to move with,” he said.

It’s also important to listen to your body and adjust as needed, especially when fatigue starts to affect your form. “There’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself into fatigue,” said Dr. betiku “It’s about being aware that I’m tired, I have to focus 100 percent on my form.”

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When most people think of weightlifting, their first thought might be the bench press, in which a lifter lies on a bench and pushes the weight up. The bench press is so iconic that comedians from Chris Farley to YouTube star Mike Tornabene have used it to poke fun at bodybuilders. But it can lead to rotator cuff injuries if done incorrectly.

The rotator cuff is particularly vulnerable because so many tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, and nerves travel through a narrow pathway called the subacromial space between the shoulder blade and humerus. “It’s this very small space that’s almost like a roadway,” said Lauren Shroyer, an athletic trainer with the American Council on Exercise who specializes in chronic injuries.

A common mistake is hunching your shoulders up, almost like sitting on a chair, which can put a lot of strain on that area. Ms Shroyer said it could lead to impingement syndrome, a painful condition caused by the shoulder blade rubbing against the rotator cuff. The same can also happen if you raise the bar above your head instead of your chest. To avoid this, she said, make sure your arms are shoulder-width apart, your shoulder blades are squeezed together, and the bar is lowered to mid-chest.

Another common problem is lifting too much weight too quickly, which can lead to an acute injury, e.g. B. to a tear of the pectoral muscle. When this happens, the lifter often experiences a popping sensation, loses control of the weight, and now “one nipple is pointing one way and the other nipple is pointing the other way,” said Dr. Matava. “We’re going to see that a lot,” he added, often with inexperienced lifters trying to lift more weight than they’re ready to lift.

Pectoral tears are excruciating and often occur when weight is lowered onto the chest. Although lowering a weight or your body can feel like the easier part of an exercise, it also carries a higher risk of injury as muscles both contract and stretch. That risk of injury is also increased because exercisers feel like the hardest part is done and are less focused, said Dr. Michael Maloney, Sports Medicine and Orthopedist at the University of Rochester. Other examples of this type of risky move would be lowering the bar to the floor during a deadlift, walking or running down a hill, lowering your body during a pull-up, or returning your torso to the floor during a sit-up. To avoid this, work on staying focused throughout the exercise.

In his own clinical practice, Dr. Matava’s most common injuries are from weightlifting and running. “Of the two, I probably watch running the most,” he said. The majority of these injuries are due to overuse. “For running, it’s the rule of too,” said Dr. Matava. “Too many kilometers, too many hills, too little rest.”

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A very common problem in runners is knee pain, specifically patellofemoral pain syndrome, which is often referred to as “runner’s knee.” Runner’s knee is thought to be a nerve irritation caused by a muscle imbalance between the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip muscles that misaligns the kneecap. To prevent this, build up your running performance gradually and incorporate regular strength training. The good news is that while runner’s knee is a problem, research shows that running can serve to strengthen the cartilage of the knees, with runners less likely to develop arthritis than their non-jogging counterparts.

Another common overuse injury in runners is stress fractures. This often happens when a runner tries to add too many miles too quickly without getting enough rest days. The impact of running causes microfractures in the bone which, given time to heal, result in stronger bones. However, when a runner begins to run more miles without taking rest days, these microfractures build up to injury.

Both injuries commonly occur because runners “did something extraordinary compared to what they were trained to do,” said Dr. Matava. He typically sees such stress fractures in people who have either just started running or are deciding to quickly ramp up their training. A good rule of thumb is to limit mileage increases to less than 10 percent per week.

One of the most common acute sports-related injuries is a meniscus tear, which affects at least 10 percent of people at some point in their lives. The menisci are discs of cartilage that act as shock absorbers and are located at the ends of the femur and tibia. Most tears are caused by cartilage degeneration, making it more susceptible to injury, and can occur during squats or twisting movements such as box jumps, squats with weights, or during sports such as tennis, soccer, and basketball.

Meniscus tears often occur with very dynamic movements. The risk of injury increases when these movements are performed too quickly, with too many pounds, or without adequate exercise. For example, when a person squats “too much weight and goes down too low, the meniscus can tear,” said Dr. Matava.

As with other injuries, the risk increases towards the end of a workout when fatigue sets in. Ms. Shroyer learned this lesson the hard way when she overexerted herself in powerlifting. “I got tired, but I said to myself, ‘You can do one more set,'” she said. Instead, she tore the cartilage at the end of her femur, an injury that required surgery and six weeks of immobilization.

When it comes to making progress in the gym, there’s a tension between striving to get better and striving to get injured. Ms. Shroyer’s advice is to focus on the idea that “I can do more next week because I’ve given myself time to recover,” she said. When it comes to a workout routine, she recommends combining consistency with gradual progression.

“I always encourage people to do something they believe in,” Ms Shroyer said. “Do it slowly, but do it anyway. Exercise can put someone at risk of injury, but no exercise puts someone at risk of ill health.”

Rachel Fairbank is a freelance science writer based in Texas.

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