9 Most Common Injuries
Okay, so sometimes exercise hurts. But how do you know when it’s a good hurt or a bad hurt?
The good hurt tends to occur after a workout (Acute and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and feels like a dull ache in the muscle. The bad hurt, which generally signifies an injury, is usually sharp and in a very specific spot. It usually starts as a twinge, which you think will go away. Next thing you know, you are in full-blown pain!
RICE is the general rule for treatment of the good hurt: R = rest; I = ice; C = compression; E = elevation.
Rest — Avoid activities that aggravate your injury. Rest can mean the difference between a long recuperation (and possibly invasive measures) and just a few days off.
Ice — Ice helps reduce swelling by restricting blood flow. 15–20 minutes, three to four times a day is recommended for as long as you are in pain.
Compression — Put pressure on the injured site to help keep swelling down. You want to wrap it tightly enough to feel some tension but not enough to cause numbness or cut off circulation.
Elevation — Elevate the injured area to reduce swelling.
As always, follow your instincts. If you truly feel that something is wrong, are suffering debilitating pain or can’t perform your normal daily activities, consult your physician.
Here is a list of the 10 most common fitness injuries (along with a description of how to recognize them and treat them). Read carefully! As with every rule, there are exceptions.
- Lower back pain — 80 percent of American adults suffer from lower back pain. Most often it’s caused by weak lower back muscles as well as weak abdominals. Regular strength training in these areas can eliminate most of these problems.
But if you are besieged by chronic back pain, your fitness program may be the cause. If you regularly engage in high impact aerobics, use improper form during your workouts, or overstress the muscles by engaging in the same activity repetitively (i.e., running), you may experience pain in your lower back.
Failure to bend your knees, (stick your butt out like you are preparing to sit on a chair) and, lift with your legs when lifting heavy weights is also a common cause. This doesn’t have to occur simply during fitness activities — think about lifting a bag of mulch. Bending your knees and using your lower body to help lift heavy objects is a great idea.
Generally speaking, the worst thing you can do is lie around in bed. Most often, time heals all lower back injuries. With muscular pain, exercise helps strengthen the muscles to avoid pain in the future. In the meantime, ice and gentle stretching (and I do mean gentle!) can help.
- Strains and sprains — Definitions first. Strain: overstretched or torn tendon (attaches muscle to bone); sprain: torn or overstretched ligament (connects two bones together, i.e., a joint such as a sprained ankle).
Apply ice to the injured area for the first 24–48 hours (15–20 minutes at a time three to four times a day). Stretching can help to avoid these injuries. Be sure you have supportive footwear. If your sneakers are more than six months old, replace them. Purchase shoes later in the day and buy what fits well and feels good — not what’s hot.
- Achilles tendonitis — The Achilles’ tendon attaches the heel to the calf muscle. This is a common injury for runners, tennis players, cyclists, rollerbladers and high heel wearers, among others. Stretching the foot, calf and hamstrings can help alleviate this injury.
In some cases, you may need to stop exercising for a few days. Ice is a good remedy but you should avoid stretching or strengthening exercises that put pressure on the heel.
- Knee pain — The knee is probably one of the most complicated (and most important) joints in the human body. There are so many ways to injure it, we could write an entire article on this joint alone.
Most knee injuries are caused by repetitive activities such as stair climbing, cycling, jogging, or jumping which stress the joint and surrounding ligaments and tendons.
To avoid these injuries, cross-train. Whether minor or serious, many knee injuries start with the same symptoms that may begin gradually. RICE is the ideal treatment for minor injuries. More serious injuries may require physical therapy or surgery. If pain persists, sees your MD.
- Rotator cuff — The rotator cuff consists of a group of muscles and tendons that control movement in the shoulder joint. Throwing, catching, serving in tennis, swimming and lifting too much weight can stress or tear the rotator cuff muscles and/or tendons.
Ice and compression can help alleviate the pain. In some cases, surgery or physical therapy is necessary. Take time off from heavy lifting. Be sure your form is correct whether weight training, throwing, serving, etc. If pain persists, sees your MD.
- Tennis or golf elbow — You don’t have to be a tennis or golf player to get these injuries. Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendon on the outside (or lateral side) of your elbow. Golf elbow is an inflammation of the tendon on the inside (or medial) side of your elbow. They are generally caused by overuse of the arm and forearm muscles.
These injuries can be caused by the games themselves or simply by carrying your briefcase or gym bag.
Never lock your elbows (or any other joint for that matter) during your workouts — whether a strength training workout or cardio. How many of us have been caught locking our arms on the Stairmaster to stay upright?
Ice and compression are good treatments. Having experienced tennis elbow, I can tell you that a slip-on elbow compression wrap can work wonders. But mostly — and I hate to say this — depending on the severity of the injury, you may have to stop the activity that caused the injury (in my case, my beloved tennis).
Strengthen your wrists and triceps to avoid future episodes. This can also help alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel associated with too much time in front of the computer.
- Stress fractures — Common among long-distance runners, backpackers, rollerbladers and hikers, stress fractures are really a microfracture (hairline) break that runs along a bone in the foot.
Symptoms include sudden radiating pain down the top of one or two of your toes, redness or swelling on the top of the foot, and a pinpoint pain if you touch this spot.
This is definitely a trip to the doctor’s kind of injury. X-rays may be involved, anti-inflammatory medications, ice, elevation, and rest. Don’t be a hero. If you’re experiencing agonizing pain in your foot, STOP and get medical treatment!
- Neck pain — How often have you awakened to find that you can’t move your head to the right or the left? Or been on the phone so long that you’re left without the full range of motion in your neck? Often, however, incorrect technique during strength training or cardio can also lead to neck pain.
Traumatic injuries should be assessed by your physician. If you experience tightness in your neck, gently stretch the muscles. Never roll your head around in a 360-degree circle! Stretch to front, then to the back, then to the right and the left slowly and gently. Massage is really good to relieve knots in the neck (and shoulders).
Rather than ice, moist heat is your best treatment here. Shower massage, whirlpool, and a warm washcloth will be quite helpful.
- Chafing — Chafing is one injury that’s easy to avoid. It’s a painful skin irritation caused by friction, usually where your clothing touches your body between the legs, bra line, underarms, sock line, or your shirt rubbing against your skin. Cyclists can suffer chafing on their butts. Kind of like diaper rash.
To prevent chafing, try different clothing in different cuts or fibers. Avoid cotton because it stays wet. The new synthetics are a much better choice. For chafed thighs, try short Lycra tights which may minimize friction. Women should look for sports bras with flat or covered seams.
Before your workout, apply petroleum jelly or talcum powder. Or, cover the chafed spot with a bandage to prevent further irritation. Special lubricating products are available that are formulated not to stain clothes.
There’s nothing more disappointing than being sidelined by an injury. Use common sense, good form, and the precautions above to prevent injury and keep you on track. Best of health!