Are you a gym enthusiast? You should know about these workout injuries

Common sense can prevent most workout injuries, says an orthopaedist and sports medicine surgeon

Man and woman with dumbbells in gym

“I work out!” is the answer I often get when I enquire about the activity level of my patients. I think it has now become an ‘in thing’ to go to a gym [or at least have a membership]. While it is encouraging that people are beginning to look after their health, the downside of this trend is an increasing number of workout-related injuries.

The main challenge that I find in treating injuries within this ‘gym-going’ population is that it is not a uniform group of individuals. People of every age group—from teenagers to seniors—and of every body type—slim, athletic, overweight or morbidly obese—go to the gym for a variety of workouts. It is therefore important to classify these people into a few categories:

  • Senior citizens
  • Weight-loss aspirants and fitness enthusiasts
  • Muscle-building aspirants
  • Eager beavers wanting to achieve quick results

While there is a lot of overlap between these categories, the last category of people is found in abundance. They join a gym a few weeks before a wedding or some other important event with the aim to ‘look good’, and it is this faction that is most prone to getting injured.

Senior citizens

People above 60 usually go to the gym to maintain and improve their cardiac fitness. They mainly do exercises like walking on motorised treadmills, cycling or elliptical cross trainers.

Injuries in this group

Senior citizens have a lot of age-related wear and tear in their joints and spine that already creates a strain when they workout.

  • Knee pain, back pain and shoulder impingement are the commonest problems seen in this group.
  • Knee pain is usually aggravated knee arthritis and responds well to a treatment of Rest, Ice application, Compression and Elevation [commonly known as RICE]. However, if your knee pain is accompanied by swelling, it may be a sign of cartilage tear in the knee.
  • Similarly, back pain is most often just an arthritic spine that has been aggravated due to strenuous activity and responds well to rest and ice fomentation. However, if it is accompanied by radiating leg pain and the RICE treatment doesn’t produce relief, consult a medical professional.
  • Shoulder impingement is another common problem, especially amongst people who train with weights. Overhead elevation of the affected arm during exercise becomes painful with this condition. RICE therapy is the best way to treat this and your weight training should be suspended during the therapy. If there is weakness in the shoulder or you have severe pain, see your doctor immediately as it may be a sign of a torn tendon in the shoulder.
  • Pain due to degenerative arthritis tends to improve with an increase in activity. However on rare occasions it can get aggravated.

Weight-loss aspirants and fitness enthusiasts

Weight-loss and fitness fanatics also tend to focus on cardio-centric workouts. Some of these people also do other routines like aerobics, Pilates and spinning.

Injuries in this group

Foot and ankle injuries are fairly common amongst gym enthusiasts. Ankle sprains, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis are frequently seen injuries.

  • Ankle sprain is due to a torn ankle ligament. Low grade sprains are treated by RICE therapy and taping the ankle. If you have severe swelling and an inability to bear weight on the injured leg, you should seek medical attention to rule out a fracture.
  • Shin splints are pain in the shins, which occurs post workout. It is usually found in runners. To heal this type of injury, you need to have your running technique evaluated, as it might require modification along with a reduction in the intensity of your training.
  • Achilles or heel pain is result of inflammation of the tendon due to repetitive workouts like running or skipping. Modification of training and reduction in intensity with proper rehab exercises usually works well for this type of injury.
  • Knee injuries are common too. Usually Patello-femoral joint pain syndrome is the main culprit for knee pain. In this condition, the pain subsides after modification of your training and rehab exercises. Red flags to watch out for are: swelling in the knees and instability while walking, as these may indicate a torn cartilage and need surgery.

Muscle-building aspirants

People that fall into this category want to look like Sylvester Stallone, so they have long workout sessions.

Injuries in this group

Besides all the injuries mentioned above, people in this group are also prone to muscular strains of the thigh, calf, triceps and shoulder tendonitis.

  • Unsurprisingly, foot fractures stemming from people accidentally dropping weights on their feet are one of the commonest injuries in this third group. This is because people continue to exercise despite being tired.
  • Due to an aggressive regime, fitness buffs end up pulling different groups of muscles and experience severe pain. If the initial RICE therapy doesn’t improve symptoms, you should go to a doctor as most of these injuries need supervised rehabilitation.
  • Also, rupturing of tendons like the Achilles tendon and high-grade muscle tears are seen in some people, especially the ones who abuse anabolic steroids to gain muscle mass. These are major injuries, which require immediate medical attention.

Eager beavers

Finally, the group of eager beavers are prone to all the injuries mentioned above. They also have the highest incidence of new injuries.

Injuries in this group

  • Stress fracture to the legs and feet are common injuries in this group; these happen due to excessive running or skipping.
  • Signs of a stress fracture are pain while applying pressure on the affected area and swelling. A stress fracture requires urgent medical intervention but it can be treated with extended rest and rehab. However, severe cases may need surgery.

How to stay injury-free

Staying injury-free is obviously the best way to make the most of your workout. You can prevent acute injuries by simply being safety conscious. Follow exercise progressions in a logical way and work with experienced trainers rather than attempting to exercise on your own—this will reduce injuries to a minimum. Other strategies are:

  • Know how to appropriately use the mats, trampolines and other equipment, before embarking on your workout
  • Do not goof around with the equipment
  • Don’t workout when you are fatigued.

Injuries can happen in spite of precautions; but with the advances in sports medicine no injury can put a dent on your active life.

This was first published in the November 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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