Not enough rest, doing too much too soon, overly repetitive motions and everyday wear and tear can result in workout injuries that put the kibosh on your fitness plans. In fact, a 2017 study of college athletes published in the Journal of Athletic Training found overuse injuries (usually resulting from repetitive motions from sports and workouts) account for nearly 30 percent of all injuries.
Inflammation, general stress and tendinitis were the most common overuse injuries reported. And high-speed, full-body-contact sports most often resulted in acute injuries. While you may not be tackling anyone in the gym, you may still be at risk for workout injuries. Here are some of the most common one, how they can occur and tips for staying safe.
1. Stress Fractures
These tiny, hairline fractures usually occur in the bones of the foot, heel or shin and are often the result of doing too much too soon or repetitive jumping, says Luga Podesta, MD, sports medicine specialist at Podesta Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute.
A common symptom of a stress fracture is pain and/or swelling around the site with exercise, standing or walking. Sports like basketball and tennis increase the risk of stress fractures — as does osteoporosis. If left untreated, a stress fracture may not heal properly and can lead to chronic pain.
How to Stay Safe: Start gradually. Try to progress by no more than five to 10 percent in exercise volume each week, says John P. Higgins, MD, director of exercise physiology at Memorial Hermann at the Texas Medical Center.
"For example, if you are jogging 10 miles a week, don't do more than 11 miles the next week. If you are doing 10 reps of 50-pound biceps curls this week, next week do 11 reps of 50 or 10 reps of 55 pounds." Cross-training can also help.
2. IT Band Syndrome
Common in runners and cyclists, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) occurs when the IT band, a ligament that runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the shin, becomes tight and inflamed.
"Cycling can trigger this flare-up, which causes pain on the outside of the knee," says Cindy Trowbridge, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Texas at Arlington. This can also occur in runners who wear worn-out shoes, run on uneven surfaces, run downhill or run too many miles.
How to Stay Safe: If you're a cyclist, make sure the seat height is appropriate — not too high or low — says Trowbridge. In an indoor cycling class, ask the instructor to help you adjust the height of the seat and find the right location that places your torso in an ideal position.
"You want to be able to just reach the bar without feeling all bunched up," she says. Runners should do a short walking warm-up before running and make sure to replace worn-out shoes. (Pro tip: If you can't see the pattern in your tread, it's time for new shoes!) Avoid running on concrete and, if you run on a track, change directions regularly.
3. Biceps Tendinitis
Pain in front of the shoulder and upper-arm may be a sign of tendinitis, an overuse injury that typically occurs from repetitive motion like weightlifting or swimming. Biceps tendinitis refers to the inflammation of a tendon that attaches your upper biceps muscle to the bones of the shoulder.
"Impingement and rotator cuff damage often accompanies biceps tendinitis," says David Geier, MD, orthopedic surgeon in Charleston, S.C. You'll feel pain and tenderness in the front of the shoulder that worsens with overhead lifting. Pain may also move down the upper arm bone and you may feel an occasional snapping in the shoulder.
How to Stay Safe: Cross-train by varying your activities to avoid repetitive overhead movements. Make sure to take enough rest time between strength-training workouts, and avoid back-to-back workouts that target the same muscle group. Check your posture which can increase the risk of biceps tendinitis, says Dr. Geier.
4. Pectoral Injury
Losing control of a dumbbell or barbell during a heavy bench press, for instance, can lead to a tear in the pectoralis muscle — a serious injury. "You'll feel a tearing sensation, and the chest and upper arm often turn black and blue," says Dr. Geier. "Sometimes a defect in the muscle is visible or palpable. You should see an orthopedic surgeon within a few days to determine if the injury needs surgery."
How to Stay Safe: Make sure you can control the amount of weight you're lifting, says Dr. Geier. "If you're trying to lift a very heavy weight, have a spotter present to help control it so that you don't drop it or lose control."
5. Glenoid Labrum Tear
Clicking sounds and uncomfortable catching sensations deep in the shoulder during bench presses or military (overhead shoulder) presses may be symptoms of a glenoid labrum tear, says Dr. Geier.
"This refers to a tear in the cartilage bumper that surrounds the glenoid, the socket of the ball-and-socket joint." Labral tears can result from overuse or a direct injury to the shoulder, like falling and landing on an outstretched arm.
How to Stay Safe: It may not always be possible to prevent a labral tear, says Dr. Geier, but any uncomfortable popping or pain deep in the shoulder is worth checking out. If the pain doesn't improve, see an orthopedist to determine the cause and treatment options. "Modify exercises to avoid pain," says Dr. Geier. "You can still get a good shoulder or chest workout even if you have to avoid specific shoulder or chest exercises."
- Nearly 30 percent of all college athlete injuries a result of 'overuse'
- Cindy Trowbridge, Ph.D.: Associate Professor of Kinesiology at University of Texas, Arlington
- Dr. Luga Podesta: Podesta Sports Medicine
- John P. Higgins, M.D., director of exercise physiology at Memorial Hermann at the Texas Medical Center