Top 15 Weightlifting Injuries and How To Avoid Them
Weightlifting injuries are common but also preventable. Taking a few minutes to warm-up and stretch before and after every workout can dramatically decrease your risk of injury. While exercising, be sure to incorporate all major muscle groups in a given week – don’t isolate one part of the body while forgetting about the rest. Start slow and lift light, gradually increasing the weight you use over the course of weeks and months. If you are new to weightlifting, consider hiring a personal trainer for one to three months to learn the basics. Most importantly, treat rest and recovery as seriously as you do your training. Eat a well-balanced diet focused on wholefood and natural choices; sleep for no less than seven hours each night, and give yourself two or three days away from the weight room per week. If you are injured while weightlifting, stop all exercise and immediately visit your chiropractor or physical therapist.
Top 15 Weightlifting Injuries and How to Avoid Them
Studies show that weightlifting injuries are commonplace, regardless of age, fitness experience, or workout type. One study found that spine, shoulder, and knee injuries were the most reported with 2.4 to 3.3 injuries occurring for every thousand hours of training. Powerlifters had up to 4.4 injuries for every thousand hours of training.
Simple preventative steps can make a world of difference in the weight room, decreasing your risk for injury. Let’s review the 15 most common weightlifting injuries from top to bottom and how to avoid them.
Upper Body Weightlifting Injuries
1. Labrum Tear
The labrum is a piece of cartilage found inside the shoulder. It’s shaped like a crescent moon and provides a protective lining for the ball and socket joint of the shoulder.
Also known as a SLAP (superior labrum anterior and posterior) tear, this injury is common among younger athletes and occurs from repetitive overhead lifting and throwing. If you take a hit to the shoulder, this can also cause a labrum tear.
How to Prevent a Labrum Tear:
Thoroughly stretch and warm-up the entire shoulder before exercise. Don’t focus on one type of shoulder exercise. Make sure your shoulder workouts include the anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (rear) deltoids.
2. Shoulder Impingement Syndrome
When the tendons in the shoulder get stuck and inflamed, this is known as shoulder impingement syndrome. It is an overuse injury causing pain and the inability to lift the shoulder.
Repetitive overhead motions such as when you perform a military dumbbell press or a clean, jerk, and press are the primary causes but trauma can also be a factor.
How to Prevent Shoulder Impingement Syndrome:
Aside from warming up and stretching the entire shoulder, you’ll also want to avoid lifting too much weight too soon. Ease into your shoulder workout and be sure to train the entire area including trapezius and upper back muscles. Monthly deep tissue massages will also help to prevent impingement.
3. Rotator Cuff Tear
Your shoulder is a ball and socket joint where your upper arm bone is held in place by a collection of thick tendons known as the rotator cuff.
A torn rotator cuff is usually caused by wear and tear over time, quick and snappy weightlifting movements such as the clean and jerk, or a combination of both. A rotator cuff can be partially or completely torn with the latter being a complete separation from the bone.
How to Prevent a Rotator Cuff Tear:
Prevention starts with low-weight and high-repetition exercises. Try using rear deltoid raises, lateral raises, and front shoulder raises for 12 to 15 repetitions with a lighter weight. Stretching is also crucial before, during, and after a workout. Ice can be applied to any soreness.
4. Herniated Disc
Your spine is a collection of vertebrae that are protected and cushioned by jelly doughnut-like discs. A herniated disc is when the soft insides of one of these discs pushes out through the tougher exterior and irritate nearby nerves.
Jerky exercises or using too much weight can cause a herniated disc. Deadlifts including the stiff-legged and Romanian variations, good mornings, and barbell back squats are commonly associated with herniated discs.
How to Prevent a Herniated Disc:
Stretch and warm up before lifting. If you’re a beginner, avoid jerky or snappy weightlifting exercises until you’ve learned the basics. Avoid bending forward while lifting heavy weight. All lifts should be slow and controlled with the muscle you’re working expanding and contracting with each repetition.
5. Cervical Spine Injury
Your cervical spine is made up of the vertebrae that form your neck. The cervical spine begins at the base of your skull and ends at the top of your back.
Depending on how high or low in your neck the injury occurs, a cervical spine injury can be extremely serious, resulting in intense pain, inability to breathe, or paralysis. Weightlifting accidents are the most common cause of cervical spine injury. Lifting too much weight with incorrect form can easily cause a neck injury. Also, avoid twisting sideways while lifting which can lead to serious back issues.
How to Prevent a Cervical Spine Injury:
Always use a spotter when performing exercises that involve lifting weight above the head. Keep your shoulders and hips squared up. You should use a neck pad or rolled up towel on the barbell to prevent the bar from falling onto your neck. Include neck strengthening exercises into your routine. There’s mounting evidence that exercises designed to strengthen neck muscles can help break longstanding cycles of neck pain and help prevent injury.
Your internal organs are held in place by your muscle tissue. Straining too much during weightlifting can place an immense amount of stress and pressure in your abdominal area. If you have a weak core, a part of your intestine can push through your muscle tissue and result in a hernia.
Barbell back squats, deadlifts, and traditional sit-ups are commonly associated with developing hernias.
How to Prevent a Hernia:
Focus on stretching and strengthening your core musculature. The core encompasses your abs (front), obliques (sides), and lower back. Target your core every other day, incorporating transverse plane exercises such as top-to-bottom cable twists and planks. Take a yoga or pilates class once a week to get your core in proper condition.
7. Lateral Epicondylitis / Tennis Elbow
A number of tendons connect your forearm and elbow joint. Repeatedly performing the same movements or exercises over a long period of time can cause tears in this tissue, resulting in inflammation and pain that is most intense at the elbow.
Exercises that are commonly associated with lateral epicondylitis include overhead triceps extensions, skull crushers, and cable rope pushdowns.
How to Prevent Tennis Elbow:
Warm-up and stretch the triceps, biceps, forearms, and wrists. Performing circles at the elbow joint is an excellent dynamic stretch. Vary your upper body workouts and allow plenty of time to rest. For example, avoid performing two triceps-focused workouts back to back.
8. Wrist Strain
The wrist is small and seemingly unimportant when compared to the larger muscles, but the wrist contains a complex network of ligaments, tendons, and muscle tissue that allow for an incredible range of motion. From the front squat to the bench press, the wrist makes most exercises possible.
Wrist strain can happen when you bend or flex the wrist too much. Also, if you’re using too much weight during a pressing or snapping exercise such as the barbell press or clean and jerk, you can strain your wrist.
How to Prevent Wrist Strain:
Strengthening your forearms, wrists, and grip is the best way to prevent strain. Use farmer’s walks and barbell rolls to improve your forearms and wrists. Use thick grips or thick bars to strengthen your grip. Be sure to stretch your forearms and wrists after every workout.
Lower Body Weightlifting Injuries
9. Iliotibial Band Syndrome
The iliotibial band or IT band runs down the outside of your leg. It begins at the hip and attaches into the top of your knee. IT band syndrome occurs from overusing the muscle. The connective tissue rubs against the thigh bone, creating inflammation and pain.
Runners who incorporate heavy weight lifting into their routine and weightlifters that over-exercise their legs commonly experience IT band syndrome. The pain is usually greatest on the outside of the leg, just above the knee.
How to Prevent Iliotibial Band Syndrome:
Perform stretches that incorporate the IT band, hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Use a foam roller to alleviate tension and knots in the hip flexors and IT band. Always go for a run on even surfaces. In your leg day workout program, be sure that you’re exercising the entire lower body with an emphasis on the hip adductors (inside thigh) and hip abductors (outside thigh). Ensure you have the right shoes and foot orthotics to avoid injury.
10. Patellar Tendonitis
Another overuse injury, patellar tendonitis is when you experience pain in the lower part of the knee that usually extends down into the shin.
This weightlifting injury is common for those that perform too many high-impact exercises such as jump squats, jumping lunges, and box jumps without adequate rest.
How to Prevent Patellar Tendonitis:
Focus on a complete lower body exercise program that incorporates the hip flexors, glutes, and calves as much as the quadriceps and hamstrings. When using high impact exercises, take your time and gradually increase the number of repetitions you perform.
11. Quadriceps Strain or Tear
The quadricep or quad is a four-headed muscle on the front of your upper leg. Quads get much of the attention during a leg-focused workout with exercises such as squats, leg extensions, and lunges.
When quadriceps are overworked, overloaded, or both, you risk a strain or tear. Runners and endurance athletes who incorporate heavy lifting into their workout programs are a higher risk for quadriceps strains or tears. Those that focus on the quadriceps and tend to ignore the hamstrings are also at risk due to overcompensation.
How to Prevent a Quadriceps Strain or Tear:
Thoroughly warm-up and stretch your quadriceps before, during, and after every leg workout. Make sure that you give equal attention to your hamstrings to avoid quad dominance. Above all, give your legs a break and don’t overdo it.
12. Hamstring Strain or Tear
Opposite your quadriceps, on the back of your leg, you’ll find the hamstrings. Exercises such as deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, and lying leg curls target the hamstrings.
Having weak hamstrings then performing a hamstring-focused exercise with too much weight or intensity is the most common reason for a strain or tear.
How to Prevent a Hamstring Strain or Tear:
Be sure to warm-up and stretch the hamstring muscles. Dedicate one hamstring-focused exercise for every quadriceps-focused exercise; this will help to correct strength imbalances.
13. Calf Strain or Tear
The calf muscle is found on the back of the lower part of the leg below the knee and above the ankle. It’s a supporting muscle for most leg exercises.
A strained calf muscle can come from poor exercise posture, inadequate shoes that force your calf into an unstable and high-risk position, and leg length discrepancy where one leg is slightly longer than the other. A history of calf injuries also puts you at a higher risk to strain or tear your calf again.
How to Prevent a Calf Strain or Tear:
If you think you may have leg length discrepancy, visit your chiropractor as he can provide a shoe insert and develop a program to alleviate muscle tightness and lower injury risk. As always, be sure to adequately warm-up and stretch the calf muscles.
14. Hip Flexor Strain or Tear
Hip flexor muscles include hip adductors that are found on the inside of your thighs and hip abductors that are on the outside of your thighs. Like the calves, your hip flexors take part in most lower body exercises, providing a full range of motion, rotation, and extension.
Having weak or tight hip flexors can increase your risk for injury, especially if you attempt a hinge exercise like the deadlift with too much weight.
How to Prevent a Hip Flexor Strain or Tear:
Warm-up and stretch your hip flexors. If you feel a lot of tightness in the hip flexors, take a few minutes to stretch at home as well. Assign at least one exercise for each side of your hip flexors to avoid overcompensation from surrounding muscles.
15. Achilles Tendonitis
The Achilles tendon can be found on the back of your ankle. It attaches the calf muscle to your heel, allowing for flexion and rotation.
Achilles tendonitis happens from repetitive exercise, overuse, and improper warm-up. Wearing the wrong footwear during a leg workout can place additional stress on the Achilles tendon, increasing your risk of injury.
How to Prevent Achilles Tendonitis:
A proper warm-up and stretching session is the best way to avoid Achilles tendonitis. Visiting your chiropractor to ensure you are wearing the proper shoe can also decrease your risk for injury.
Have You Recently Experienced One of these Weightlifting Injuries?
Did you pull a muscle? Are you feeling pain in the lower back, elbow, or knee after a workout? Stop all physical activity outside of your normal routine and make an appointment to see your chiropractor.
Ravenswood Chiropractic specializes in treating weightlifting injuries. Give us a call today at 773-878-7330 to schedule a consultation to get on the road to recovery and back in the weight room.
Dr. DeFabio is a highly regarded chiropractor in Chicago who focuses on helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness. He takes a holistic approach to care, treating symptoms and addressing underlying issues to promote long-term healing. Dr. DeFabio is passionate about empowering his patients to take control of their health and live their best lives. You can find him surfing, skateboarding, and volunteering at the Lakeview Food Pantry when he’s not in the office.