If you exercise, you might worry that you’ll sustain an injury that keeps you on the sidelines for days, weeks, or months. Injuries like muscle sprains, shin splints, or a mild case of tendinitis are inconvenient, but they don’t usually keep you from exercising for a prolonged period of time. However, some injuries, like muscle or ligament tears, serious sprains, or a stress fracture can take you out of commission for a while or even require surgery and there are other repercussions. If you have to take a long break from working out, you could be become deconditioned and lose muscle strength and mass. Plus, if you’ve been injured in the past, your risk of re-injury is higher. That’s why prevention is so important. Have you ever wondered what science says about preventing exercise-related injury? Studies show these factors increase the risk of being injured during a workout.
Aging is something we all face, but it doesn’t have to limit us. Everyone, regardless of age, needs exercise. In fact, people over the age of 60 need physical activity even more since muscle loss speeds up in women after menopause. How does being older increase the risk of getting injured? Reaction time slows with age and older individuals are more likely to have decreased vision and hearing. For those who are just starting, the level of deconditioning can be greater due to age-related muscle loss and a decline in aerobic capacity.
Still, you can get stronger and fitter at any age. The key is to take it slowly. Don’t try to run a marathon or be an Olympic lifter when you first start. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of workouts. Build up baseline strength with core and total body exercises before attempting more challenging exercises. Rotate the exercises you do to avoid repetitive stress injuries, like tendinitis. It takes longer for injuries to heal as we age.
Too Rapid Training Progression
If you try to do too much too quickly at any age, it increases the risk of injury. Resist the temptation to ramp up your exercise intensity too fast. Your body needs time to adapt to the stress you place on it and become more resilient and resistant to injury. Doing the same exercises over and over can lead to overuse injuries. One way to avoid this is to structure your workout circuit-style, so you’re doing a variety of exercises. As far as advancing the intensity of your workouts, keep the figure 10% in mind. If you run or cycle, increase your mileage by no more than 10% each week. The same applies to weight training; increase the weight by only 10% weekly. Taking this step alone will lower your risk of repetitive stress injuries.
Wearing Shoes without Adequate Ankle Support
Choose your training shoes carefully. The right shoes should fit well, not too tight or not too loose, and should have enough cushioning to absorb force when your feet strike the ground. If you have a history of ankle, foot, or knee problems, see a sports medicine specialist or podiatrist. They can examine you and see whether you have issues like overpronation of the feet that increase the risk of injury. If that’s the case, they may recommend specific shoes or orthotics you wear in your shoes to stabilize your feet and prevent overpronation.
Not Warming Up
A warm-up prepares your muscles to work by increasing their temperature, and a warm muscle is more pliable and less prone to strains. Although the evidence that warming up before a workout lowers injury risk is conflicting, most of the evidence suggests that doing a thorough warm-up modestly reduces the risk of injury when you exercise. Most fitness trainers recommend doing a dynamic warm-up where you move the muscles you’ll be working dynamically, like arm swings, jogging in place, punches, and leg kicks. Save static stretching for the end of a workout.
Exercising on a Hard or Uneven Surface
If you do high-impact exercise, do it on a softer surface. When your feet repeatedly strike a hard surface, it forces your feet, ankles, knees, and hips to absorb the impact. If you do this frequently enough, it can lead to stress fractures in the feet, hamstring strains, or tendinitis. It can also cause or worsen plantar fasciitis. Likewise, working out on an uneven surface increases the risk of injury as it can change your balance and increase the risk of falling. Whenever possible, stick to softer surfaces.
A History of Injury in the Past
If you’ve had a training injury in the past, you’re at higher risk of a future one. Studies show four injuries, in particular, are likely to recur. These are ankle sprains, hamstring strains, rupture of a ligament in the knee, and Achilles tendon injuries. For example, with hamstring strains, a study found the risk of reinjury was between 12 and 48% among professional soccer players who had a history of a hamstring strain. Once you’ve strained a hamstring and get re-injured, it is often more severe the second time around.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to lower your risk of reinjury. For ankle sprains and hamstring strains, build strength in the respective muscles through resistance training. Always do a dynamic warm-up before launching into the meat of a workout and include stretching and flexibility exercises at the end of each workout. Avoid doing repetitive movements over and over to lower the risk of overuse injuries.
The Bottom Line
Now you know what the most common causes of exercise-related injury are and how to lower your risk.
- Always start with a dynamic warm-up.
- Save static stretching for after your workout.
- Include flexibility exercises in your routine.
- Wear a pair of shoes that offers good ankle support.
- Don’t increase high-impact duration by more than 10% per week.
- Don’t increase resistance when strength training by more than 10% weekly.
- Strength train muscles that you’ve injured in the past.
- Avoid exercising on a hard or uneven surface.
- MayoClinic.org. “Overuse injury: How to prevent training injuries”
- Journal of Sport and Health Science. Volume 1, Issue 2, September 2012, Pages 92-101
- ClevelandClinic.org. “What’s the Right Shoe to Avoid Ankle Sprains?”
- J Sci Med Sport. 2006 Jun;9(3):214-20. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2006.03.026. Epub 2006 May 6.
- Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2014 Oct; 9(5): 583–595.
- com. “Workout Injuries: Prevention and Treatment”
- “What is overpronation?”