Is your high intensity exercise regime causing you to get injured?
Hardcore workouts like F45, bootcamp and spin are all the rage. But experts caution that too much of a good thing could end up hurting you instead.
You know the drill. These days, getting fit is often about activating #beastmode and making sure that you #traindirty. While moving and exercising is always a good thing, these catchphrases imply that you’re not getting a workout if you don’t push yourself to your limit and beyond.
Case in point: Trendy high octane fitness classes like F45, bootcamps and spin or indoor cycling.
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“Group workouts bring a club or team environment into training, which have a positive effect on the training environment, performance and motivation to continue to exercise,” said Dr Cormac O Muircheartaigh, medical director of The Sports Medicine Lab. “But, it is more difficult to monitor and adapt the individual’s training load and volume.”
The trouble starts when there is “no long-term planning on recovery and adaptation which is critical to allow the body to tolerate the ongoing training load”, he added.
That’s when issues like rotator cuff injuries, knee or hip pains happen.
Accidents such as fractured toes from heavy equipment falling on the feet to shoulder injuries caused by lifting weights without proper warm-ups are also becoming more common. There is also a rare but very severe condition called rhabdomyolysis when muscles break down due to sudden over-exercise (more on that later).
Sophie Penco, a physiotherapist at Focus Pilates says, “What we have seen in recent years is the increase in workouts that can be done in a shorter period of time as people are becoming more time poor. Many of these HIIT (high intensity interval training) style workouts include high impact and plyometric exercises – with minimal warm up or cool down – that can increase the risk of injury if they are not gradually and progressively started and increased.”
But don’t let the possibility of getting an injury deter you from going to the gym as the benefits of regular exercise far outweighs these risks.
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“Good movement and exercise are important to for health and ageing well. In any exercise programme or sport activity, there is a risk of injury,” pointed out Dr Kevin Tomassini, a chiropractic doctor from Spine and Performance at Core Collective.
In fact, most injuries are preventable if fitness junkies follow some simple guidelines.
He adds, “Perform exercise with the correct form, train in the proper environment and with proper equipment and get help from good fitness, wellness and health professionals.”
Gym bunnies, watch out for these sports injuries and find out the experts’ tips on how to prevent them.
STRAINS AND SPRAINS
What is it: A sprain is a stretch or tear in a ligament while a strain is a stretch or tear in a muscle or a tendon.
Causes: These are common in high intensity exercise programmes. Muscle strains are frequently caused by sudden stopping, jumping, pivoting or throwing movements, while ligament sprains usually happen when a person falls or twists a limb (usually the ankle and knee) such as when jumping or doing pylometric exercises. “Wrist and thumb sprains are also increasing in frequency with some of the most loved exercises such as burpees,” said Penco.
How to prevent: Start with lighter weights and cover shorter distances at a slower pace and build up gradually, advises Dr Tomassini. Remember, you do not have to keep pace with the person exercising next to you.
Treatment: Flexibility-based activities like yoga or barre may weaken the overstretched area further. Instead, work on strengthening exercises to stabilise the injured joint once the injury has healed. Mild strains and sprains may heal within two weeks to a month with proper care:
- Rest and avoid physical activity
- Apply ice to the injured area for up to 20 minutes every two to three hours
- Compress the affected area by wrapping it with a bandage to help reduce swelling
- Elevate the injured area above chest level, if possible.
If the sprain or strain is severe, you should seek medical treatment immediately and a physiotherapist may be involved in rehabilitation.
What is it: Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, which causes pain in the front of the lower leg.
Causes: These are often seen with new runners who try to build their mileage too quickly, or even regular runners who change the terrain they run on, said Penco. There is an increasing number of outdoor fitness groups who run on hard surface or do hill sprints – and people who are not accustomed to outdoor training may struggle with this.
How to prevent: Maintain good form when running or jumping.
Treatment: Do not “push through the pain” as that will aggravate your condition. “Treatment involves correcting individual risk factors such as poor foot intrinsic strength, poor running gait and hip stability,” said Dr O Muircheartaigh.
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What is it: The rotator cuff muscle is a common problem area and injuries include impingement syndrome, bursitis or tendonitis. Symptoms include pain as well as difficulty lifting the arms or stretching the shoulders.
Causes: A common injury among Crossfit devotees, shoulder injuries are often caused by lifting weights that are too heavy, and not warming up, said Dr Tomassini. Dumbbell shoulder press injuries are common too.
How to prevent: Learn the proper weightlifting technique and posture from an expert and use a weight you can control, before increasing the weight progressively.
Those with tight shoulders can also consider pilates sessions. “Pilates puts a strong focus on thoracic mobility which in turn allows for a safer range of motion for the shoulder. Tight upper spine means that shoulder range of motion, especially in overhead positions predisposes us to shoulder injuries, said Daniel Dittmar, head instructor and exercise physiologist at Focus Pilates.
Treatment: Seek medical advice to get an accurate diagnosis for the cause of your shoulder pains. The appropriate treatment will follow.
ANTERIOR KNEE AND HIP PAINS
What is it: Sharp pain in the knee or hips
Causes: The increased load through the kneecap with the downstroke on cycling can aggravate the knee. Runners may experience similar pains too.
How to prevent it: Learn to adjust your spin bike so that you have a proper seating position and practice the proper stroke technique and cadence when you cycle, advises Dr O Muircheartaigh. It is important to have sufficient rest in between sessions.
Treatment: Usually starts with strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and gluteal muscles.
What is it: Spinal disc injuries, which can cause sharp pains.
Causes: Poor form and technique when doing squats and deadlifts, which are increasingly common in many group fitness classes.
How to prevent: If you do not know how to lift, consult with a qualified trainer to perfect your form and do not rush into heavy weights before you are ready. Complement your workouts with core strengthening and flexibility exercises.
Treatment: Before taking the plunge into surgery, consider rehabilitative treatment with a physiotherapist or a chiropractor who could help to improve the alignment and motion of the spine.
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BROKEN OR FRACTURED TOES
What is it: A small break in the bone of the toes or feet – this can be excruciatingly painful and you may not be able to bear weight on your injured foot.
Causes: This is increasingly caused by accidental dropping of gym equipment on the feet or falling off boxes during box jumps. It can also happen with overuse, such as with long distance runners.
How to prevent: It may be stating the obvious, but avoid throwing weights and other gym equipment on the floor after using them and watch your step when sprinting or jumping.
Treatment: An orthopaedic specialist can reset the fractured bone fragments back to their original position.
What is it: A rare but very serious condition when muscles break down and release their contents into the bloodstream, which can lead to complications such as kidney failure.
Causes: Acute, unaccustomed high intensity exercise is one of the main causes of this rare condition, says Dr O Muircheartaigh. In other words, exercise newbies who engage in extremely strenuous fitness activity without proper training are most at risk.
How to prevent it: Make sure that when you exercise, especially if you are just starting out, that you do not overexert yourself. Start slow and then pick up the intensity with time and progression, advises Dr Tomassini.
Treatment: If you experience symptoms of this condition, which includes extreme exhaustion after exercising, weak muscles, irregular heartbeat or dark-coloured urine, go to a hospital immediately. Prompt treatment is essential for a full recovery.