“The best ability is availability”. I’m not sure who said that quote, or from where it originated, but I do know it to be true. In November of 2017, I wrote a blog on how to deal with injury, both psychologically and physically, but I omitted one area that was an important aspect and that is how to avoid injury. Certain injuries occur for reasons outside of your control, but there are others that are totally avoidable and if picked up, can be a nuisance to both your training and your lifestyle. So, to help you, I’ve put together a short article on the most common injuries you’re likely to face in the gym and information on how to avoid them.
- Tennis elbow
The is common in both tennis players and golfers, but can also be contracted by gym users who repeatedly perform the same exercises creating a repetitive strain in the joints and tendons. It is the inflamed tendon that causes the issue.
Prevention: The easiest way to prevent tennis elbow is to strengthen the muscles in the forearm and stretch after exercise. If you’re lifting weight, ensure your form is correct and you vary the exercises when working out. To reduce the chance of repetitive strain.
- Shin splints
Shin splints, the term for all lower leg pain that occurs below the knee, are the bane of many athletes, runners, tennis players, and even dancers. “It’s muscle inflammation and can occur even after just a couple of workouts,” says associate professor of kinesiology Cindy Trowbridge, Ph.D. They often plague beginning runners who do not build their mileage gradually enough or seasoned runners who abruptly change their workout regimen, suddenly adding too much mileage, for example, or switching from running on flat surfaces to hills.
Prevention: Preventing shin splints means managing your mileage on the roads to avoid the injury through overuse and if possible, running on softer surfaces, to begin with to reduce the impact going through the leg. Correct footwear is essential, as is adequate time off from running through rest days. Overuse, when the muscle is damaged, is a big cause of shin splints. Last, but not least, stretch regularly and keep those calves loose!
- Ankle sprain
An ankle sprain is an annoying, but totally preventable injury that is commonly caused by running on uneven surfaces.
Prevention: In some cases, running on flat surfaces may not be avoidable (or desirable), but if it isn’t necessary, then keep exercising on a flat surface to reduce the chance of rolling the ankle.
- Lower-back strain
This has got to be one of the most common injuries and is sure to be a consistent reason people visit the doctor. A sudden twinge in the lower back could be a sign you’ve overdone it. While deadlifts and squats are fantastic exercises that every training regime could include, they put you at much greater risk if you use too heavy a weight or use incorrect form.
Prevention: Preventing lower back injuries involves training the lower back, but with correct technique and weight relative to what you can lift. Too heavy and you run the risk of pulling a muscle.
- Rotator cuff injuries
Many shoulder injuries occur not in the thick deltoids which overlay the shoulder joint, but in the smaller rotator cuff muscles that help to stabilise the shoulder. Why? These muscles are smaller and fatigue far quicker than the deltoids increasing the risk of strain when used repeatedly.
Prevention: 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 weight that’s too heavy and lat pulldowns behind the neck — do pulldowns in the front instead.
- Plantar fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of connective tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes. The bottom of the foot exhibits pain, swelling, and extreme tightness. It is very common and can sideline even the most experienced of athletes.
Prevention: Use a tennis ball or golf ball to roll out your plantar fascia (bottom of foot). Do these warmups prior to a lower body workout to prevent plantar fasciitis.
- Hip pain
The main hip issue for athletes is gluteal tendinopathy, although piriformis syndrome, hip impingement, and hip flexor strains also occur. Hip problems are typically due to excessive training volume, too much uphill running, tightness, and muscular imbalances.
Prevention: Be sure to stretch after every training session to avoid muscle tightness and add some exercises into your regime that strengthen the small muscles in the hip.
- Patellofemoral syndrome
Knee patellofemoral syndrome is defined as generalized vague discomfort about the knee cap, says Mendler, and it’s often related to poor tracking of the patella in the trochlear groove (space between the two knuckles of the lower thigh bone).
“Patellofemoral pain can be further exacerbated by muscle imbalances, most frequently a relatively weak vastus medialis muscle, or notable imbalances (strength or flexibility) between the quadriceps and hamstrings,” Mendler says. “Patellar tendinitis, or more often patellar tendinosis, can be a plague for a weight-lifting athlete. The term tendinosis indicates chronicity and some degree of degenerative change within the tendon substance. The term tendinitis would imply inflammation and a relatively short duration of symptoms (days to a few weeks).”
Prevention: You can prevent this by strengthening your hip, glute, and quad muscles, as well as shortening your stride.