With CrossFit, Zumba and other trendy exercise programs gaining popularity, it’s likely that fitness-related injuries will catch up to you sooner or later, particularly aches and pains in the shoulder, lower back, knees and feet.
Exercise programs such as CrossFit are not designed for the beginner and if a less experienced athlete does participate without proper pre-training, an injury may result, says Dr. John Brown of The CORE Institute. For the beginning athlete, one of the more less demanding programs such as Pilates, yoga, and Zumba may be more appropriate as the participant can monitor the intensity of their participation and easily back off if necessary to avoid injury, yet still experience the benefits of a fitness program.
What are the most common causes of injuries? Experts says it’s overuse or improper technique.
Cause of injuries
“The most common cause (of shoulder injuries) is inappropriate technique or doing something that’s new and repetitive, especially lifting something over your head,” says Dr. Erik Dean of Arizona Sports Medicine Center. “The shoulder joint is not meant to do the kinds of maneuvers that we sometimes ask it to do.
Overuse or improper use of the shoulder muscles can lead to rotator cuff injuries and and tendonitis of the shoulder, doctors say. While shoulder injuries may be a result of misuse of the muscle, lower back injuries can occur due to a lack of knowledge of the exercises performed.
“I see a lot of lower back injuries when people perform exercises too quickly or with too much weight, especially in an uncontrolled fashion,” says Dr. Susan Sorosky of Desert Spine and Sports Physicians. “So the cause might be insufficient core strength coupled with poor form.”
“Knee injuries are often related to insufficient strength, especially when women have weaknesses in the hips and quadriceps, which affect the forces at the knee,” Sorosky says. “Injury can also occur if people have poor form, such as performing squats with more than 90 degrees of knee flexion, or lunges with the forward leg going too far over the foot.”
Don’t rush it
While experts say there is no specific age group of women more prone to injury than others, Dr. Brian Gruber of Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists explains that once women reach 30, injuries can be more common.
“I’d say we don’t see many women in high school or early college,” he says. “We see it most when women are in their 30s, or maybe they have taken a significant amount of time off from exercising and want to get back into a program.”
Despite the age of a woman, problems can arise when an individual jumps into a physical activity without the proper training. The process of going from doing little physically active to entering into a rigorous and aggressive program such as CrossFit or P90X can lead to injury, Dean says.
“It’s hard when people start activities like a lot of the newer boot camps, Zumba, Insanity, CrossFit,” Gruber says. “People start a new exercise program and they aren’t conditioned to do higher levels, and there isn’t that one-on-one attention from a trainer where they can build up to that.”
In order to prevent fitness-related injuries of this nature, Dean says that moderation is the key. If an individual joins a class or starts a new exercise program, she needs to take time off between exercises to give her body rest. Working on strength training and core exercises also prevent injury.
“A big thing is warming up appropriately,” Dean says. “Do some sort of light cardio activity for 15 to 20 minutes beforehand that involves light resistance and movement for joints.”
The elliptical machine is ideal, activating blood flow to the muscles and warmth to the joints and ligaments. Ballistic stretching after exercising can also be a beneficial way to stay healthy.
“A lot of it from the prevention standpoint is being smart with your body,” Gruber says. “When you get the first zing of pain, don’t go running to your doctor. But if you have done different things and they aren’t getting better, or if it swells, you need to see your doctor.”
According to Sorosky, if the pain is functionally limiting and lasts longer than a week or two, a woman should visit a doctor in the industry, such as the primary care physician or a specialist in spine and sports medicine or orthopedics. Rest, ice, appropriate use of anti-inflammatory medications and sometimes physical therapy — depending on the diagnosis — are the best ways to treat an injury.
With appropriate treatment, a woman will likely be able to return to exercising.
“It is very important to look at life as a marathon rather than a sprint,” Sorosky says. “While one may need to take a break from aggravating activities for a short time and go to physical therapy, the goal is to get back to performing one’s favorite activities in the end. Once completing physical therapy, a patient can bring those exercises back into the gym and then be able to perform their activities with a smarter body.”
According to Dean, supplements are likely overused and over-utilized, but calcium, fish oil supplements and vitamin D can promote better general health. These supplements, paired with a proper diet, will help women avoid injury. Above all else, however, a woman must listen to her body.
“Bottom line, some people’s bodies are not equipped to do certain things,” Gruber says. “It’s not something you fight through. If it doesn’t work for you, just switch it up.”