What Kind of Nerve Damage Can You Get From Lifting Weights?

Strength training provides health benefits beyond those of regular exercise. Lifting weights develops muscle and bone mass, tone and strength. It also burns calories and helps with weight management. Weight lifting can help to reverse the decline in muscle and bone mass people naturally experience with age. However, incorrect use, sudden overuse or repetitive use of weights can cause sports injuries, including a pinched nerve or nerve damage, while lifting weights.

A woman is working with a trainer. (Image: Charlotte Swanson/iStock/Getty Images)

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 nerves due to repetitive or regular improper movements. Long-term nerve pressure, such as incorrect posture, osteoarthritis, obesity, injury or sports and other exercise, can lead to nerve damage, says Mayo Clinic. 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 usually returns to normal. If the excess pressure continues without attention, the nerve can become permanently damaged, especially without proper care.

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. Serious injuries such as nerve damage often occur when a weight machine is used incorrectly. Improper use can cause a weight machine to malfunction, and then parts of the machine may slip and hurt the user. For example, machine pieces can fall on the user, or the machine can abruptly jerk a user’s body. This can lead to nerve damage and other injuries, and in some cases, fatalities. 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, including a pinched or damaged nerve, a sprain or strain, a bone stress fracture and tendinitis, suggests CNN Health Library.

Other Contributing Factors

For complete fitness, include aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching in your daily workout routine. Without flexibility, you’re more prone to injuries such as nerve damage. Stretch all parts of the 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. Use your weight lifting sessions as meditation time, and clear your mind of worries, anxieties and problems. If you’re sick or very tired, either avoid working out or stick with a light workout until you’re better.

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, says Fitness Health Zone. 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 shoulder, chest, arm, back, core and leg muscles.

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