Getting Hurt in the Gym

Getting Hurt in the Gym

Strategies for preventing and treating workout injuries.

Geoff Robison of Custom Kinetics in McLean uses a foam roller to help a client recover from an injury.

Geoff Robison of Custom Kinetics in McLean uses a foam roller to help a client recover from an injury. Photo courtesy of Geoff Robison

Investing the time to learn how to move well at the beginning of an exercise program will pay off in the long run.” — Joel Martin, Ph.D., George Mason University


Geoff Robison of Custom Kinetics in McLean shows a client how to use corrective exercise.

While sustaining an injury isn’t on anyone’s list of fitness goals, a recent study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy shows an increase in gym-related injuries in recent years. Corrective exercise is among the strategies for recovering from workout-related injuries, but fitness experts are also emphasizing prevention.

“Generally speaking, at some point it’s good following an injury to perform corrective exercises to rehab injured muscles,” said Joel Martin, Ph.D., Exercise, Fitness and Health Promotion Graduate Program coordinator and assistant professor of Kinesiology at George Mason University.

“Depending on the stage of the healing process the exercises may focus on getting blood flowing to the injured area, regaining strength in injured muscle or correcting poor movement patterns that contributed to the injury.”

One of the most common causes of sports or workout related injuries is performing an exercise incorrectly, says Martin. “You should take the time to learn proper form and seek the help of an exercise professional for advice as to how to perform various exercises,” said Martin. “Investing the time to learn how to move well at the beginning of an exercise program will pay off in the long run.”

Failing to do warm-up exercises before a workout and increasing the intensity of the exercise too quickly — either within the exercise session or across multiple exercise sessions — are among the leading causes of workout injury, says Martin. Not following safety procedures is another.

“Some of the most serious exercise injuries happen from not using common sense,” he said. “These can come in a variety of forms, but may be due to trying to show off, not wearing proper shoes or equipment for the exercise mode, exercising in unsafe environments, or not using a spotter for heavy lifts.”

Even with safety measures in place, Parker Bryant, a personal trainer based in Bethesda, Md., tells his clients that injuries can happen, even to the most cautious athletes. "For many common injuries, especially a muscle that's sore because it's been overused, I usually advise clients to apply ice for about 20 minutes several times a day to reduce any swelling and to rest the injured body part," he said.

For those dedicated to fitness, being told to rest can be hard to hear, says Geoff Robison of Custom Kinetics in McLean, but he says that it is possible to be active while recovering from an injury.

"One of the hardest things for a runner with an injury to hear is that they have to stop running,” Robison said. “But one of the worst things you can do when you have an injury is lay down and not move. Movement, when done properly, can be very healing. It can bring blood flow and realign your body.”

Exercise can be used to help heal some workout or sports related injuries, says Robison. “Everyone who walks in our door gets taken through an assessment,” he said. “Whether it’s low back pain, a knee problem or shoulder pain, we find the root cause of the problem.”

Once the problem is identified, Robison and his team of trainers work to create an exercise program that is designed to decrease pain and build fitness.

One example that he uses to explain his therapeutic strategy is knee pain, which he says is one of the injuries he sees most often in clients. He observes the client’s movements to help determine the cause of the problem. “Maybe it’s coming from the foot, because the foot is not strong enough, so your knees cave in when you squat,” he said. “Maybe your glutes [gluteal muscles] are weak or maybe your quads [quadriceps] are weak. Strengthening these muscles can help stabilize the leg and help relieve knee pain.”

Robison builds an exercise regimen that is designed to address a specific issue or injury. “One exercise that I might use is the clam shell where clients lie down on their side and open and close their knees,” he said. “When it’s a case of muscle overuse, I might use a foam roller or resistance bands to loosen and strengthen the muscles.”

Bryant says that an injury can be an opportunity to try a new type of workout. "For example, if you’re a runner, but your knees are bothering you, stop running for a while and try swimming to give your knees a rest," he said. “After you’re been pain-free for more than a week, you’re probably healed. When you do return to your normal exercise routine, don’t dive in with the same intensity as before your injury. Gradually work your way back so that you don’t reinjure yourself.”