The 5 Most Common Weightlifting Injuries and How to Avoid Them
Weightlifting has its risks of injury just like any other sport. And just like football, basketball, or golf, prevention of injury is key to a long career. After all, the best way to heal an injury is to avoid ever getting one in the first place. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent injuries, there are methods that are proven to greatly reduce the risk of having weightlifting injuries.
Any weightlifters who plan to be in the gym for years to come, must take inventory of their workout habits every so often and make sure they haven’t forgotten good form, warm up techniques, and key steps that help prevent injury.
A good plan is to use every January and July to work out with a partner and evaluate each other’s routine. Consider the top 5 injuries that occur from weightlifting. These are the injuries that more weightlifters suffer than any other injuries;
- Disc herniation
- Shoulder bursitis or tendonitis
- Wrist Tendonitis
- Achilles Tendonitis
- Knee Injuries
Knowing what the most common injuries are, we can begin to formulate a quick and dirty list of things to evaluate that will help reduce the risk of having one of them.
Why These Injuries Happen
Now that we know what the most common injuries are, it is time to dig deeper and ask why are these injuries happening to so many strong, experienced lifters?
In the most general sense, these injuries happen simply because they involve the parts of the body that bear the weight being lifted. There are no lifts that don’t require involvement from wrists, back, shoulders, or ankles.
So, it makes sense that the parts of the body most often used in lifting weights are also the parts of the body most often injured during weightlifting.
Another reason injuries often occur is due to the triple-impact of a single lift. This means that every time you complete one lift, your body experiences that lift three unique times.
For example, when lifting a barbell in a standing position, the wrist joints are pulled and somewhat separated. At the same time, the tendons in the wrists, elbows, and shoulders are stretched out when the bar is being pulled up from the floor.
Once the weight is off the floor and being pushed up over the shoulders and above head, the wrists, elbows, and shoulders immediately switch from being pulled on, to being compressed by the amount of weight on the barbell.
Lastly, there is a third impact on the body from this single lift. When the weightlifter lowers the weight below the shoulders and prepares to release it, the joints and tendons are again being pulled and working to avoid tears and breaks. The weight is no longer being pushed up or held up and is being released back to the floor, forcing the body to experience the weight a third time.
Knowing that every single lift has a triple-effect on our joints and tendons is an important part of evaluating one’s routine. This triple-effect is why muscles and tendons can fatigue quickly. Fatigue leads to injury because other muscle groups work harder to make up for the fatigued group’s lack of work.
Disc Herniation Prevention
A herniated disc is when the soft “cushion” between the vertebrae in the spine is pushed out and left bulging. Think of it as squeezing an Oreo Cookie and some of the white filling is left sticking outside the outer edge of the cookie. The bulging disc is a herniated disc, but if it bears so much pressure that the injury escalates, it will rupture.
A ruptured disc can put a weightlifter out of the gym for life. So, this is not an injury worth risking.
Sounds awful, right? It is. So, let’s talk about never herniating a disc to begin with. The best way to prevent this injury is to warm up, use proper technique, good form, and give your back ample support to do the job of supporting your limbs while you lift.
Warming up is important because it preps the muscles around the spine. The muscles around the spine protect the spine and the discs. Weightlifting will always put pressure on the spine and discs, but properly prepared muscles can help keep that pressure from crushing the disc. So, do the full workout- including warmup and cool down.
Lifting for years can make one a bit cavalier about the basics. But it’s exactly that- the years in the gym- that can make it hard to recognize when one’s form has slipped. The most microscopic adjustment to form can happen each year. After four or five years, it’s possible to be wholly out of form without noticing.
Use a cell phone to take video of your form for one full month. Be highly critical and let another experienced weightlifter review the form and technique. This is a good practice to use annually to be sure there are no small changes putting you at risk for injury.
Lastly, disc herniation happens quite often due to weightlifters escalating their weight rack too soon. If the supporting muscle groups are not strong enough to smoothly support the weight being lifted, those muscles can strain or tear and put the weight more directly on the spine. In this case, a weightlifter can herniate or rupture multiple discs in a single life.
Always, always work individual muscle groups and slowly increase the weight being lifted. This will help prevent those muscle groups from failing and forcing the weight onto the discs.
Shoulder Injury Prevention
Tendons are the tissue that connects the muscle to bone. Covering the tendon is a thin layer that acts like oil for the tendon, allowing it to move easily without irritation. Improper lifting or increasing the weight too fast can cause damage to the layer or the tendons themselves.
Once the tendons are injured or inflamed, if not addressed and healed, the chances of additional shoulder injury increases greatly. A weightlifter who doesn’t deal with tendonitis in the shoulder can end up with bursitis or rotator cuff problems.
To prevent this damage, use proper lifting technique and gradually increase the amount of weight being pushed and lifted by the shoulders. The best way to ensure you are lifting right is to build the muscle in associated areas. Building your delts, pecs, lats, and rhombos will help protect the tendons in the shoulder from injury.
Wrist Tendonitis (and Breaks) Prevention
Much like the shoulder, the elbows, wrists, and knees have tendons that run into the joints and attach the muscle and ligaments to the bones. These tendons can be pulled, torn, or simply inflamed from overuse.
To prevent wrist injury,athletic powerlifter Julius Maddox uses Tuffs wrist wraps. Giving the wrists support helps to prevent muscles and tendons from overworking and becoming fatigued. Fatigue is a major cause of injury to tendons and is often overlooked early on. Preventing fatigue by using wrist supports is quick and easy. Just make it a habit to wear them at every upper body workout.
Wrist wraps also help prevent broken bones. Breaking a bone is one injury that sets weightlifters back several months. Tired muscles and fatigued tendons means bones have lost their defensive line up and are at their most vulnerable. Its best to end the workout before muscles and tendons experience that much fatigue, but it can go unnoticed sometimes. Wearing wraps is the better-safe-than-sorry solution in this circumstance.
Achilles Tendonitis Prevention
Achilles tendonitis affects the ankles and can take months or even years to fully heal. Weightlifters can help prevent Achilles Tendonitis by stretching out the calves and backs of the ankles before and after every workout.
A great warm up for lower leg and ankle tendons is jumping rope. Calf raises with no weights are another great way to warm up and carefully stretch the Achilles Tendons.
IT Band and Knee Tendonitis Prevention
IT Band Tendonitis is felt in the knee where the IT Band attaches to the knee joint. However, the problem almost always starts in the glutes. When the gluteus medius is overused or improperly used during a lift, the hip flexor (also known as the TFL) works to “assist” the gluteus medius.
Unfortunately, this means the TFL is doing work it wasn’t designed to do, and it becomes overly tightened pretty quick. This tightening then pulls on the IT Band all the way down to the knee. Without noticing, a weightlifter can begin to compensate for that sore knee by putting more weight on the opposite knee.
This can lead to that opposite knee experiencing torn ligaments or tendons. Here again it’s clear that not addressing a seemingly minor issue can lead to a more serious injury.
To prevent IT Band tendonitis, strengthen the glutes and examine weightlifting form. Make sure the glutes are strong enough to support the weight being lifted. If the glutes are not strong enough, then reorganize your workout to strengthen the glutesbefore you continue lifting that weight or adding additional weight.
End your workouts by rolling the TFL out on a foam roller. This will do the work of post-workout stretching and prevent the tendon from becoming so tight that it causes injury to the IT Band.
To prevent injuries to the knee itself, especially when increasing the weight you’re squatting, use proper shoes that stop your ankles from rolling and popping out a knee. It’s also wise to invest in support that maximize the stability of the knee during the crucial squatting motion.