Weight Training Injuries: A Bummer for Your Gym Life


How Do Common Weight Training Injuries Occur?

The 3 usual areas particular to weight training injuries are the shoulders, the back and the knees.  The shoulders can have rotator cuff issues.  The lower back can have a bad sprain or possibly a bulging disk resulting in the sciatic nerve being aggravated.  The knees can develop sprains and cartilage wear and tear.  How do injuries occur?  It may happen like this:

You have been weight training for some years.  One day you’re doing reps with straight legged deadlifts which is an exercise you are quite familiar with and have done many times.  While pulling up you move to the side a certain way and hear a snap and at the same time you feel a sharp pain so severe that it’s as if someone stabbed a large knife blade into the back of your leg.  You just popped a hamstring, meaning, you tore part of the hamstring musculature including tendons.  For this type of injury there are three levels or degrees of damage.  The first level is that it hurts a lot but you can still walk without a limp.  This takes a week or two to heal.  The second level is when there is more pain and you can still walk but with a limp.  This takes three to four weeks to heal.  The third level is when you can’t walk at all.  You need a medical professional.  A bad sprain usually requires about a week or two to heal.  Anything more serious will require weeks or months to heal.  Many times an injury never heals completely and the ailment becomes chronic.

Never keep Exercising Through a Weight Training Injury

The one thing that can really mess up your training is an accidental injury.  Most people–especially men, tend to train through injuries thinking that somehow weight training the injury will make it go away.  The ideal thing to do is immediately stop training the injured body part and see a medical sports professional as soon as possible but usually no one does this.  In the worst case scenario, the pain is so severe you won’t have a choice but to stop exercising.

The best advice is to never train through an injury but people generally ignore this advice.  How do you know if some discomfort is actually bad? It’s impossible to describe the difference of feeling between a sorely strained muscle and a ligament tear unless you have that experience.  The best description, however, would be that a sore muscle is more of a dull pain whereas a bona fide injury that requires medical care is usually more of a sharp pain and may render you somewhat dysfunctional.

What to Do After You are Injured:  Use R.I.C.E as First Aid

Immediately after you experience a pain injury, play it smart.  Stop training and practice first aid technique known as R.I.C.E.  This is an acronym that stands for:

  • Rest is obvious.  If you injure an area of your leg then you stop using your leg.  You either sit or lie down.  Maybe you’ll need crutches
  • Ice the injured area.  This helps to keep the swelling down.  It is best to not apply ice directly to the skin as this may result in a burn.  (Yes, ice can burn you).  You can use a cold pack bought from the drug store or simply use a package of frozen vegetables.  Both of these you keep in a freezer for such an occasion.  Keep the compress on for five to ten minutes and then take it off for the same amount of time.  Some sources will tell you to alternate between hot and cold compresses but that is perhaps better done the next day.  When the injury is fresh just use a cold pack on the injury a few times an hour for a few hours.
  • Compress.  Wrapping the area of the injured leg with a compression bandage will not only help to keep down the swelling but also give the injured area extra support.  It is somewhat of an art to wrap an injury so that the bandage is not too tight or too loose but snug.
  • Elevate the leg so that is vertically higher than the heart.  This prevents the injury from throbbing too much and also helps to keep down swelling.

Inflammation is the enemy with any injury.  Practice the R.I.C.E technique as soon as possible and you will keep swelling under control.  The effectiveness of R.I.C.E cannot be overemphasized.  If you think you can just tough it out without performing this you certainly can but you may not heal as quickly.  Remember, the faster you heal and recover, the faster you can get back to training.

Injury Prevention

Injury prevention is multifold:

1)Warm up properly before you exercise and

2) Study new weightlifting exercises and then perform them in strict form.  Never expect a joint to stretch beyond its normal operation.

3) Train with a partner.

4) Use common sense

Warm up by taking a brisk walk around the block or jumping rope for a few minutes before training or basically anything that gets you to break a sweat a little.  Before you actually do your first working set first do two or three sets with a much lighter weight.  This is for blood flow and to make sure that your muscles and joints are feeling fine before you lift the heavier stuff.  Make sure you do the exercise in strict form without cheating.  If you catch yourself cheating, for instance by jerking or swaying or using body English to move a weight then perhaps the weight is too heavy.  Lighten up on the weight and do it right and then increase.  Two steps forward one step back is the best progression.  You’ll get there.  A good rule of thumb is only lift the amount of weight you can lower slowly under control if you had to.

Conclusion

Another useful tip to injury prevention is to not train alone but this advice tends to be ignored as often as the one about not to train through an injury.  Most people train alone but if you can manage it, get someone to spot you when doing potentially dangerous lifts such as bench presses or squats.  Emergency rooms routinely see patients who drop weights on themselves.  You may be able to dump the barbell during a heavy squat but surely not during a bench press and wherever the place is where you’re living, the owner or neighbor will undoubtedly be rattled when they hear all that iron crashing down on the floor (but at least you might get a free ride to the emergency ward).  If you just use a little common sense and have a healthy respect for that iron, your days on the inactive list with a weight training injury will be few or none.

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