Strength training provides health benefits beyond those of regular exercise. Lifting weights develops muscle, bone mass and strength. It also burns calories and helps with weight management. Weight lifting can help to reverse the decline in muscle and bone mass naturally experienced with age.
However, incorrect or repetitive use of weights can cause sports injuries — including a pinched nerve or nerve damage — while lifting weights.
Nerve damage can occur from lifting weights that are too heavy or using poor technique. It can also occur with underlying medical conditions such as arthritis.
About Nerve Injury and Damage
You can sustain a pinched nerve when excess pressure or compression from bone, cartilage, muscles or tendons is placed on a nerve, according to Mayo Clinic. For example, a herniated spinal disk can compress a nerve root, causing a pinched nerve.
Carpal tunnel syndrome adversely affects a nerve in the wrist due to repetitive or regular improper movements. Long-term nerve pressure from incorrect posture, osteoarthritis and obesity can physically damage a nerve. An untreated pinched nerve or serious nerve injury can lead to chronic or long-term nerve damage.
Once a nerve is pinched, it typically becomes inflamed and dysfunctional, but after proper attention, treatment and rest, the nerve often returns to normal. If the excess pressure continues without attention, the nerve can become permanently damaged, causing numbness and irreversible muscle weakness.
How Lifting Can Damage Nerves
The most common cause of weight lifting injuries is improper use of equipment. However, a person can also pinch or damage a nerve by improperly performing other types of strength training exercises, or performing exercises that put joints in compromised positions.
Serious injuries such as nerve damage often occur when a weight machine is used incorrectly. Improper use can cause a weight machine to malfunction. For example, machine pieces can fall on the user, or the machine can abruptly jerk a user's body. Nerve damage can also occur from overuse of weights, lifting weights that are too heavy, or rushing into high intensity workouts.
Check with your health care provider before starting a weight training program. Work with a certified fitness trainer to avoid common weight lifting mistakes and injuries. See a doctor if you suspect you have this condition — getting prompt medical attention will increase your chances of regaining strength after a pinched nerve.
Injury at Any Age
Nerve injuries aren't limited to a specific age group. A case study published in February 2017 by the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association discusses a weight lifting nerve injury sustained by a 26-year-old male.
The article states that damage to the long thoracic nerve is common in athletes during sports activities when the arm is overhead and the neck is turned to the opposite side. The long thoracic nerve injured in this case study is located in the armpit area and supplies muscles that move your shoulder blade.
Design a Well-Rounded Workout
For complete fitness, include aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching in your regular workout routine, according to the American Council on Exercise. Without flexibility, you're more prone to injuries such as nerve damage. Stretch all parts of your body for 20 to 30 seconds each before and after weight lifting or other exercise.
Warm up sufficiently and begin weight training routines gently. Keep in mind that illness, fatigue, distraction and mental or emotional stress can contribute to sports injuries such as nerve damage. If you're sick or very tired, either avoid working out or stick with a light workout until you're better.
Read more: Can Herbs Heal Nerve Damage?
Importance of Proper Training
If you don't have access to a certified personal trainer or weight lifting expert, join a gym that will provide you with proper instruction. It's important to learn the right way to operate weight machines and proper free weight lifting techniques.
Take it easy and don't rush into training — start with lighter weights, fewer repetitions and sets, and easy workouts to avoid nerve damage from lifting weights.
Stay away from "no pain, no gain" thinking — if you feel pain, listen to your body and check your form to avoid nerve damage. Lifting weights should be challenging, but you should not feel intense pain.
Remember to breathe during weight training and warm up and stretch out before and after routines. Work out all major muscle groups evenly, including your shoulder, chest, arm, back, core and leg muscles.
- Mayo Clinic: "Pinched Nerve"
- Journal of the American Osteopathic Association: "Long Thoracic Nerve Injury Caused by Overhead Weight Lifting Leading to Scapular Dyskinesis and Medial Scapular Winging"
- American Council on Exercise: "The Impact of Flexibility Training on Performance"
- BodyBuilding.com: Prevention Management – Weight Training Injuries
- MedHelp: Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Sports Injury
- Faqa.org: Wrist Injuries