A guide To Avoiding Common Fitness Injuries

By Raymond Onyango.

First Do No Harm

Exercise is supposed to promote good health and contribute to longevity, but as the number of gym users around the world grows, so does the number of people picking up gym related injuries. Lower back strain, shoulder pain, sprained ankles, sore knees… are all injuries that many of us have had to contend with at one point or another as a result of engaging in recreational activities. Those of us who are lucky make a full recovery and put these unfortunate incidents behind us should count our lucky stars, because many more of us find ourselves nursing little niggling injuries that persist often for life.

These injuries not only cost us money and man hours, they also leave their physical imprint on our bodies, changing the way we move and greatly increasing our susceptibility to future injuries. For instance one of the worlds top tennis stars Raphael Nadal has had a career plagued by recurrent injuries as have other athletes including golfing great Tiger woods and our very own Dennis Oliech both of whom have had to undergo surgery to correct damaged knees.

In fact among the things I pay keen attention to, when evaluating my clients is their movement patterns. I look to see if they favor one leg over the other. Whether their right arm gives out before the left during a set of push ups, or if they enjoy more range of motion in one shoulder as opposed to the other. More often than not, these observations reveal to me, lasting evidence of old injuries, and hopefully help us both to adopt exercises that will heal rather than aggravate these existing imbalances.

The vast majority of fitness related injuries could be attributed to overuse and poor technique – factors that are absolutely in our control. Let us take a look at some of the more common fitness injuries and what we can do to avoid them.

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Your shoulders are one of the most mobile joints in your body, enabling you to move your arms in a mind-boggling array of directions. Precisely because it is so mobile, the shoulder is also a very inherently unstable joint. It is not anchored deep in a socket like your hips and it is actually held together by a small but very important group of muscles collectively known as your rotator cuff muscles. When these get irritated and inflamed, the result is pain weakness and a reduced range of motion in the affected shoulder. The pain is often worst when the arms are raised over the head or rotated in their sockets and ma be accompanied by a grinding or popping sensation as you move the shoulder.

Horizontal rotator cuff exercise

External rotator cuff exercise

The most common causes of this type of injury are lifting too much weight especially without warming up. This can happen when performing common upper body exercises such as the bench press, the shoulder press, upright rows or even triceps dips.  Treatment usually includes rest, cessation the pain inducing activity and physiotherapy focused on maintaining range of motion, and improving circulation to promote healing.

You can however avoid getting injured in the first place by, trying out the illustrated rotator cuff strengthening exercises as a regular part of your workout regimen.

Strained Lower Back

Lower back strain

Almost each and every one of us is going to have to deal with this one at some point or the other. Twisting awkwardly or suddenly, lifting too much weight in poor form or trying a new fitness activity at a level that exceeds your proficiency and ability will almost certainly lead to lower back pain. The culprit is usually weak core muscles and poor flexibility especially in a key category of muscles known as the hip flexors, which play a huge role in activities like running together with shortened hamstrings often as a result of poor footwear choices and too much time spent sitting in our modern day lives.

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

As we age, our bone density also decreases, and the spine looses it ability to absorb impact and trauma. If the spine is overly strained or compressed from an activity such as running or weight lifting a disk may bulge outwards or inwards putting pressure on any one of more than 50 nerves rooted in the spinal cord, which control your body’s movements, the result can be extremely debilitating back pain and an enormous loss of personal mobility and autonomy.

Supine Hamstring stretch

A lot of lower back pain can be treated without surgery by strengthening the core muscles of the abdomen and lower back as well as stretching and strengthening both the hip flexors and the hip extensors. You could add these  stretches to your fitness routine to help you keep lower back pain at bay. Also, get yourself a Swiss ball, this inherently unstable surface will provide great training and resilience to your core muscles. Warming up adequately and working within your means are two proven ways of staying away from back trouble.

Runners Knee

Runners knee

Runners knee is a term used to refer to a number of medical conditions that cause pain around the front of the knee (patellofemoral pain). The knee, being a weight bearing structure is very sensitive, and can easily be irritated and injured as a result of misalignment or imbalances in the thigh muscles which support the joint or even factors such as flat feet or poor footwear choices, especially high heels. Lack of variety in your fitness regimen may also contribute to overuse of the knee joints, especially through activities such as running which place a lot of strain and impact on the joint structure.

Walking Lunge

To avoid knee injuries, your best hope lies in keeping your weight down because excess body weight is one of the major contributing factors towards developing knee pains.  You need to make a habit of stretching regularly especially after long running sessions and also to incorporate enough variety into your training to enable you give your knees a break at least 2 to 3 times a week if not every other day. For novice runners, mileage should be increased slowly to allow for adaptation and proper running gear including well cushioned shoes should be high up on your priority list.

Sprained Ankles

Ankle Sprain

This is by far one of the most common fitness related injuries, and most often happens when the sole of your foot turns inwards, overstretching the ligaments on the outside of your ankle and compressing those on the inside. As would be expected all activities that involve running, jumping and quick changes in direction of movement or lots of acceleration and deceleration, carry with them a high risk of ankle sprains. These include popular sports like squash, volleyball, basketball, many aerobics classes and sometimes even just walking on an uneven surface.

calf raises

The best way to bolster your defenses against sprained ankles is to work on improving your ankle mobility and strength. It is important to stretch and strengthen the calf muscles as well as the weight bearing Achilles tendons to help you achieve better mobility and resilience in the calves. Seated calf raises are one way to achieve this safely and effectively.

Have an injury free week, will you!