Not enough rest, too much too soon, repetitive motions and simple wear and tear can result in pain and injuries that put the kibosh on your workouts. In fact, a study of college athletes published in the Journal of Athletic Training shows overuse injuries (repetitive motions involved in sports and workout routines, such as long-distance running, swimming and rowing) account for nearly 30 percent of all injuries. Inflammation, general stress and tendinitis were the most common overuse injuries reported. High-speed, full-body-contact sports most often resulted in acute injuries. Here are the most common workout injuries, how they can occur and tips for staying safe.
Twisting an ankle doesn’t just happen running outdoors. Jogging on a treadmill can also result in an ankle sprain, says Cindy Trowbridge, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Texas at Arlington. “The biggest problem running indoors on a treadmill is losing your focus and accidentally stepping half on and half off the treadmill while the belt’s still moving.” If you jump off the treadmill quickly, your ankle may roll in an unnatural direction. Running outside on uneven terrain or up and off curbs also increases the risk of an ankle sprain. HOW TO STAY SAFE: Most treadmills have a clip you attach to your clothes that stops the machine if you fall. Says Trowbridge, “If you run outdoors, stay on level sidewalks or at a park, versus running where you have to go up and down off a curb.” Look for paved, even walkways because uneven terrain and potholes can be problems.
Pain along the inner edge of your shinbone (tibia) may be a sign of medial tibial stress syndrome, more commonly known as shin splints. Common in runners, shin splints can also develop in exercisers who participate in running sports or jumping. “It’s muscle inflammation and can occur even after just a couple of workouts,” says associate professor of kinesiology Cindy Trowbridge, Ph.D. You’re at greatest risk of shin splints if you’ve recently increased the intensity or frequency of your workouts. Uneven ground, running uphill or downhill or on hard asphalt also increases the risk of shin splints, as does wearing worn-out shoes. HOW TO STAY SAFE: Wearing proper shoes and gradually increasing your workout intensity (no more than 10 percent a week) goes a long way toward preventing shin splints, says Trowbridge. Also, avoid running or jogging right away. Slowly warm up first by doing jumping jacks to get your blood moving and your muscles warm, she says.
A sudden, sharp twinge in your lower back during your workout could be a sign you’ve overdone it. “Squats or deadlifts with improper form wreaks havoc on the lower back,” says associate professor of kinesiology Cindy Trowbridge, Ph.D. “You can suffer strains or, even worse, nerve compression and disk herniation.” Twisting motions or sideways bends can also strain your lower back. HOW TO STAY SAFE: Beginners should first learn how to maintain a neutral back, says Trowbridge. To find your neutral spine, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your spine should touch the floor under your neck and lower back, which allows the natural curves of your back to absorb shock during exercise. “Get your form correct first before adding weight. Beginner weightlifters should do the leg press or hip sled first before trying squats.” If you’re unsure of proper form, ask a qualified personal trainer for advice.
ROTATOR CUFF INJURY
Four main muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis) comprise the rotator cuff, which surrounds and stabilizes the shoulder joint. Shoulder pain when you reach behind you, overhead or out to the side may be a sign of a rotator cuff strain. “It typically results from repetitive overhead activity,” says Luga Podesta, M.D., sports medicine specialist at Podesta Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute. Activities such as swimming or throwing a ball and overhead shoulder movements like military presses can lead to rotator cuff strains when done repeatedly over time. HOW TO STAY SAFE: Strengthen your rotator cuff muscles as part of your upper-body program. Use good posture (a slouched posture makes you more prone to compression of the shoulder joint) and avoid repetitive overhead exercises with the weight that’s too heavy and lat pulldowns behind the neck — do pulldowns in the front instead.
These tiny, hairline fractures are usually the result of too much too soon or repetitive jumping in one place, says Luga Podesta, M.D. The majority of stress fractures occur in the bones of the foot, heel or shin. Pain around the site of the fracture that worsens with exercising, standing or walking is a symptom of a stress fracture. The area may also swell. Sports like basketball and tennis also increase the risk of stress fractures — as does osteoporosis. If left untreated, a stress fracture may not heal properly and can lead to chronic pain. HOW TO STAY SAFE: Start gradually. Try to progress by no more than five to 10 percent in exercise volume each week, says John P. Higgins, M.D., director of exercise physiology at Memorial Hermann at the Texas Medical Center. “For example, if you are jogging 10 miles a week, don’t do more than 11 miles the next week. If you are doing 10 reps of 50-pound biceps curls this week, next week do 11 reps of 50 or 10 reps of 55 pounds.” Cross-training can also help.
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