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Workout injuries are injuries sustained while playing a sport or during exercise. Whether you’re an elite-level athlete, a fitness enthusiast or sporadically turn up at the gym, your risk of suffering an injury is never zero.

And whether you split your time at the gym doing isolated exercises for your arms, shoulders, back and legs, or do intense, full-body workouts, or perform set workouts like crossfit, you can still suffer an injury if you lose focus or overstrain yourself, especially after a hectic day at work.

A proper warm-up and stretching exercises can reduce your risk of suffering an injury. Additionally, good nutrition and resting your muscles adequately in-between workouts can help you to avoid injuries.

While running injuries usually affect the lower section of the body - mostly the legs - workout injuries can affect an individual anywhere in the body - most notoriously at the joints in the arms and legs. Repetitive movements of the joints can make you even more prone to injury.

Workout injuries can take several days - sometimes weeks - of recovery time. Some injuries, on the other hand, linger for a while before becoming worse.

Read more: The importance of stretching in a workout

  1. Types of workout injuries
  2. Common workout injuries
  3. Workout injury symptoms
  4. Causes of workout injuries
  5. Tips to prevent workout injuries
  6. Diagnosis of workout injuries
  7. Workout injury treatment
  8. Risk factors of workout injuries
  9. Takeaways for workout injuries
  10. Doctors for Workout injuries

Types of workout injuries

Injuries sustained while playing a sport or during exercise can be chronic (develop over time) or acute (sudden onset). Repetitive strain injuries constitute chronic injuries, and are caused by continuous stress being put on a particular area of the body. Acute injuries, on the other hand, happen on the spot, like a pulled muscle in the leg or arm.

The majority of workout injuries involve the muscle. Workout injuries fall into one of four broad categories:

  • Bruises: A direct injury that leads to discolouration of the skin after a part of the body is hit, like in a contact sport like soccer or due to a fall.
  • Strains/sprains: Injuries that are caused due to the overstretching of ligaments, mostly in the joints of the body. Sprains and strains are some of the most common injuries people suffer while playing sports or during exercise. Most such injuries affect the knees, wrists, ankles, shoulders, elbows and the hip.
  • Inflammation: Tissues, tendons and bursae (fluid-filled sacs) become inflamed with repeated use, like playing sports, and cause niggling pain that can inhibit movement of the affected area. Bursitis, fasciitis and tendinitis are caused as a result.
  • Cramps: A sudden contraction of the muscles while running or working out can be an unpleasant experience. Muscle cramps usually occur due to dehydration or not having warmed up before exercise.

Read more: Hamstring muscle pain

Common workout injuries

There are certain injuries that are more common among people who work out in gyms or exercise:

  • Lower back injury: Sitting in the office all day and then trying to perform deadlifts, over-the-shoulder lifts and squats is the perfect recipe for injuring your lower back. Poor posture throughout the day compounds problems for you if you are looking to set personal records in the gym. From a strain to more serious issues like a herniated disc, workout injuries in the lower back can be debilitating.
  • Knee injuries: Not having enough movement during the day due to the long office hours, the extra weight you’re carrying because of a sedentary lifestyle, and then performing squats, box jumps or other strenuous exercises can cause all sorts of problems in the knees. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, or pain in front of the knee cap, is a common injury, as are ligament-related injuries such as ACL or PCL problems. Meniscus issues or bursitis in the knees are also par for the course for gym-goers.
  • Shoulder injury: Our shoulders are constantly at work while lifting weights in the gym, even though it may not be shoulder day. Bench presses, overhead presses or even deadlifts require the use of the shoulder joint and muscles. Soreness, as well as more serious shoulder injuries, are quite common. The hunched-over or closed-up shoulder positions you assume during the day - say, while sitting in the office or driving - doesn’t help either. Common shoulder problems include rotator cuff tendinitis, frozen shoulder or common inflammation like bursitis.
  • Bicep injury: Strains in the bicep muscles (in the upper arms) are quite common among fitness enthusiasts obsessed with lifting weights. Performing set after set of dumbbell curls and overloading the weights can cause tendon ruptures in the biceps.
  • Pectoral strain: Exercises focused on building up the pectoral muscles can lead to soreness or pectoral strain. Although not common, pectoral muscle strains are caused due to a tear in the chest muscles. This can happen if you don’t balance the weight of the barbell equally on both sides or if you lose control.
  • Sprained ankle: Ankle sprains are common injuries for runners or anyone playing sports, but they can take place even in the confines of a gym. Performing more intense cardio exercises or crossfit that require constant changing of direction can lead to a loss of balance, and lead you to hobble off the training area.
  • Elbow pain: Tennis elbow isn’t just associated with playing tennis. Lateral epicondylitis, as it is also known, can happen if you overload on your lifts that require full extension and rotation of the elbow joint. Lifting too heavy or not following the right technique can lead to pain in the elbow.
  • Wrist pain: The constant lifting and dropping of weights, not focussing on correct techniques and the one hand being stronger than the other all mean the wrist joint is always exposed to injuries and can cause wrist pain. Right from push-ups to technical exercises like front squats or military presses require abnormal flexing of the wrist, and as a result, can lead to injury.
  • Neck pain: Poor posture and poor lifting techniques can cause neck pain. If you spend several hours in front of the computer or on the phone daily, then this can make the pain worse. Lifting the neck up while performing bench presses or exercises where you lay flat on a bench will almost always result in neck pain.
  • Groin pull: A common running injury, a groin strain can also happen while performing exercises focused on the legs. Example, lunges. This type of injury is caused by overstretching of the inner thigh muscles, especially if the leg muscles are weak.
  • Shin splints: Contrary to popular belief, shin splints are not only caused because of running. You can get them while performing high-intensity exercises like box jumps, or even while climbing a wall indoors.
  • Quad strain: While the back of the thigh remains in danger while running, the front - quad muscles - are under threat during leg days in the gym. Keeping your legs immobile throughout the day and then going for explosive squats can be the cause of injuring your quadriceps.
  • Hip injuries: Your hip muscles are usually inactive for many hours during the day if you spend a lot of time sitting in an office chair. Due to this lack of movement in the hip, you may become prone to injuries like IT band syndrome - the IT band is a thick tissue in the outer side of the thigh - as well as bursitis in the hip. Even the non-threatening exercise cycle in the gym or plyometric exercises that focus on sideways movements can flare up the hip muscles and cause pain.

Read more: Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Reconstruction Surgery

Workout injury symptoms

Workout injuries sustained in the confines of a gym can affect the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Even though these injuries can occur in different parts of the body, overuse injuries usually present with similar symptoms:

  • Dull to sharp pain in the affected area
  • Muscle soreness that limits movement
  • Swelling or tenderness at the injured part
  • Bruising

Read more: How to reduce swelling due to injury

Causes of workout injuries

Acute injuries usually will have a direct cause that leads to pain and discomfort immediately, but chronic or repetitive motion injuries tend to develop over time, and can be caused by an number of factors:

  • Poor posture: Sitting hunched over or slouching in the office chair, keeping the shoulders rounded and inwards throughout the day, and then looking to perform high-intensity exercises in the gym is a prominent reason for injury.
  • Irregular or sudden gain in intensity: Drastically increasing the weights you use in the gym, increasing the intensity of your workout suddenly or a sudden increase in the number of repetitions or sets during exercise will stress the muscles of the area you’re working on. This can lead to soreness, pain or worse injuries.
  • Poor technique or form: Lifting the neck while performing a bench press, arching the back while performing squats or deadlifts, lifting up the elbows while performing arm curls for that extra leverage can all lead to nagging or persistent problems.
  • Not warming up or stretching: You cannot expect to turn up at the gym early morning after waking up or after a long day at work, and start benching your usual set of weights. Not warming up or moving the muscle group enough before performing strenuous exercises is asking for trouble.
  • Dehydration: Muscle cramps, fatigue in the middle of a workout and tiring too soon may be caused by dehydration. It is important to consume enough liquids throughout the day as well as sip a little bit of water slowly during the workout to avoid more serious injuries.

Read more: Muscle weakness: symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment

Tips to prevent workout injuries

Correctional measures, reminding yourself to focus from time to time as well as following instructions while working out are important, as they can help you avoid chronic or acute pain:

  • Warm-up: Always warm-up before exercise. An hour-long session in the gym must be preceded by a 5-10 minute warm-up session. Your warm-up session should make you used to the movements that you’re going to perform with weights later on.
  • Stretching: Much like warming up, stretching the muscles that you have just worked on during an intense gym session is a good idea to cool the muscles down - this will help you avoid cramping and increase the benefits of the exercise at the same time. 
  • Technique: Lifting weights involves technique, which, if not followed, will lead to injuries and pain. Proper lifting techniques are essential to avoiding chronic, sometimes serious, injuries. Increasing the intensity of your workouts gradually is highly recommended.
  • Posture: If you spend most of the day in an office chair, make a conscious effort to stretch your neck, back and shoulder muscles. Move the arms and legs as often as possible. Do not stay seated all day; get up from time to time and walk the length of the office at least.
    You may think that if you stay glued to your computer and focus hard on work, you'll be able to finish soon and hit the gym early. But this plan may backfire if you don't stretch the muscles and drink fluids throughout the day.
  • Follow the trainer: Getting the hang of the workout or a particular exercise isn’t enough; having a trainer or a fellow trainee look at your lifting technique, especially while lifting heavier weights or performing intense exercises, is a good idea.
  • Hydrate: Consuming the right amount of fluids - water, juices, etc. - is critical to ensuring that you’re not left feeling tired in the middle of a workout or worse, dehydrated, which can cause your muscles to cramp up. 
  • Change routine: Using the same muscles over and over again can lead to injuries. It is a good idea to take a break from your regular workout and try something new. Mixing up the routine during the week ensures that different areas of the body are worked and individual muscles get enough time to rest and recuperate.
  • Stop if injured: Some of the more obvious points need to be reiterated sometimes: stop doing the exercise at the slightest hint of pain (in an area you are not supposed to be feeling pain in). Whether it is poor technique, excessive weight or something else that is causing the pain, continuing the reps without correction, just to finish a set, is only going to aggravate the problem.

Diagnosis of workout injuries

Injuries suffered in the gym while training usually concern muscles, tendons and tissues. In worse case scenarios, there may be a dislocation in the joints, especially during more intense workouts or heavier lifts. Doctors follow a similar process of finding the cause of your pain:

  • A doctor performs a physical exam by lifting the injured part, moving it or rotating it in the case of joints to identify the exact location of the injury.
  • An X-ray is performed to check for any breakage in the bone at the affected area and to look for stress fractures or cracks.
  • Tests like MRI scan, CT scans or ultrasound are performed to identify the cause of inflammation, and to diagnose deeper problems like tears in muscles, tendon injury or ligament tears.

Workout injury treatment

Gyms and similar indoor training areas are usually equipped with first-aid kits for immediate attention to injuries, but internal injuries must be treated by following these methods:

  • RICE therapy is a combination of rest, ice, compression and elevation. Taking a break from the exercise to rest the injury, putting an ice pack on the injured part, keeping it compressed and raising the affected part is the first step towards treating the injury.
  • Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or similar medication can help in alleviating the pain and keeping the inflammation down. Check with your doctor before taking painkillers if you have a chronic condition or if you are taking medication for some other condition.
  • Rehabilitation can be a long process, depending on the severity of the injury, but restoring movement of the affected part by gentle stretching and massage can help in regaining mobility.
  • Wearing supportive equipment like ankle, wrist, elbow or shoulder supports can help in immobilizing the injured area - this aids recovery and also helps to reduce pain to some extent.
  • In severe cases like tears in muscles, tendons or ligaments, surgical intervention may be needed to restore the function of the injured part.

Risk factors of workout injuries

While anyone can get a workout injury - yes, even if they are very experienced - there are some factors that can increase the risk. These include:

  • Prior injury: If you have suffered an injury before, then chances are you will injure yourself in the same area again. A ligament, muscle or tendon can become weak after suffering a serious injury like a tear - they may not recover their strength and mobility fully even after proper rehabilitation.
  • Lifting too heavy: Going for personal records after a tough day at work? Lifting weights heavier than you usually do means your body strains itself unusually to accommodate that additional weight. This increases your risk of injury.
  • Worn-out or poorly fitting shoes: Shoes that are too tight or too lose increase your risk of injury and foot pain.
  • Bad form: Performing exercises like deadlifts or over-the-shoulder lifts? Make sure you balance your weight on both legs. Any imbalance can lead to serious injury. 
  • Not enough rest or sleep: Along with a proper diet and regular exercise, getting the right amount of sleep or rest is critical for staying fit in the long run, and avoiding injuries in the process.

Takeaways for workout injuries

Workout injuries can strike suddenly or develop over time, and the consequences can be severe. These injuries can keep you out of action for a long time and they can also increase your risk for future injuries.

Workout injuries are of various types and can affect your daily schedule as well.

Maintaining the right techniques while lifting weights, listening to your body, staying hydrated and following all the precautions while working out go a long way to keep you safe, healthy and on course to achieve that dream body.

Read more: Build bigger biceps: how to do preacher curls using an EZ bar

Dr. Amit Kumar

Dr. Amit Kumar

General Physician
4 Years of Experience

Dr.Raghwendra Dadhich

Dr.Raghwendra Dadhich

General Physician
6 Years of Experience

Dr. Brajesh Kharya

Dr. Brajesh Kharya

General Physician
10 Years of Experience

Dr. Tannu Malik

Dr. Tannu Malik

General Physician
1 Years of Experience

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  4. Gray, SE et al. The causes of injuries sustained at fitness facilities presenting to Victorian emergency departments - identifying the main culprits. Inj Epidemiol. 2015 Dec; 2(1): 6. PMID: 27747738
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  7. Keogh JW and Winwood PW. The Epidemiology of Injuries Across the Weight-Training Sports. Sports Med. 2017 Mar;47(3):479-501. PMID: 27328853.
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