Forewarned is forearmed in the high performance gym environment
By Pedro van Gaalen, Editor
Weight training injuries are a fairly common occurrence for those who spend up to six days a week engaged in this form of exercise, be it to improve performance or enhance aesthetics. These injuries can occur due to a number of factors including poor conditioning, errors in technique, structural immaturity – both soft tissue and bone – poorly periodised training and a lack of variety that can result in overuse injuries or overtraining, or even the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs (PED) such as anabolic steroids.
These common acute weight training injuries range from sprains, strains, tendon avulsions, and compartment syndrome, to stress fractures or even joint dislocations in severe instances. There are also other non-musculoskeletal problems that can include retinal hemorrhaging, neuropathy – nerve damage, impingement or dysfunction – and various cardiovascular complications.
Fortunately, the more serious injuries are relatively rare in the gym environment, but that’s not to say they do not occur.
The more common acute weight training injuries are strains and sprains and due to their mild severity many gym-goers seldom seek medical treatment for them, at least initially. It is only once the symptoms become more severe or are prolonged that intervention is sought, which means recovery times are often far longer than would initially have been the case.
Sprains affect ligaments, a form of fibrous connective tissue which connects two bones or holds together a joint, and are caused when these structures are twisted or wrenched violently. This generally results in a stretching or tearing of the ligament which causes localised pain, tenderness and swelling. The severity can be graded by the degree of laxity, or ‘looseness’ of the injured ligament. In general, a grade 1 sprain is painful without ligament laxity. Grade 2 sprains involve slight laxity, and grade 3 injuries result in gross instability.
Medial and lateral collateral knee ligament sprains may occur during squats, leg presses, and lunges with high loads due to improper technique, muscle (strength and/or flexibility) imbalances or incorrect foot placement.
Complete ligament tears or ruptures due to weight training are uncommon as there are seldom extreme rotational forces exerted, but anterior cruciate ligament ruptures have been reported by heavy steroid users in the past. Other common sprains occur in knee ligaments during knee flexion exercises such as hamstring curls and deadlifts.