Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Before You Lift a Weight, Get Some Advice

It seems unfair when people get hurt while trying to do something good for their bodies. But that is exactly what happened to nearly a million Americans from 1990 to 2007 when they sought to improve their strength and well-being through weight training — exercises done with free weights or on gym equipment called resistance machines.

To be sure, these injuries are less common than, say, those linked to running, cycling or competitive sports. But a national study, published online in March by The American Journal of Sports Medicine, revealed that these mishaps are on the rise and that they spare no body part, gender or age group.

The study covered 25,335 people aged 6 to 100 who were taken to emergency rooms with weight-training injuries. The research team, from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said that worked out to nearly one million such injuries throughout the country, an increase of 48 percent from the beginning of the 18-year study period to the end.

Men were injured in more than 80 percent of cases described in the study — hardly surprising since they are the primary users of weight rooms. But the study showed that weight-training injuries were rising faster among women, many of whom have only recently taken up the activity to help with weight control, bone density and overall ability to perform life’s chores.

In the study, sprains and strains to the upper and lower trunk were the most common injuries, and in two-thirds of cases, they resulted from people dropping weights on themselves. More than 90 percent of injuries were incurred using free weights, which were responsible for 24 percent of fractures and dislocations.

While people aged 13 to 24 had the greatest number of injuries, the largest increase occurred among those 45 and older, many of them people like me who want to delay or reverse age-related muscle loss and improve the quality of their later years.

In seeking guidance, he said, “don’t be afraid to ask about a trainer’s qualifications.

“Too Much of a Good Thing"

The most common cause of weight-training injuries, is trying to do too much — doing too many repetitions, using too much weight or doing the workout too often.

These practices can result in muscle injury and torn tendons and ligaments, as well as inflammation of the tendons and bursae (the cushionlike sacs around the joints) — all debilitating injuries that can discourage someone from returning to the gym. Lifting weights that are too heavy can injure the rotator cuff in the shoulder or strain the back.

Muscles get stronger when they are worked hard, developing microtears that are healed with protein-rich tissue. But when muscles are overstressed, the serious tears that can result are anything but strengthening.

In bench pressing, it is best to use a spotter to make sure the activity is done safely.

A second common cause of injury is poor technique, Mr. Reiff said. Improper alignment while lifting or using resistance machines can place unnatural or uneven stresses on various body parts. You must have respect for the equipment and know how to use it safely in relation to your size and abilities. The machines themselves can sometimes be a hazard, as Ms. Cleary discovered.

After an injury, it is critical to give the body the time and treatment it needs to heal before returning to weight-training. This does not necessarily mean totally abandoning a strengthening workout. If shoulders are injured, for example, legs can still be worked safely, and vice versa.

Source: Jane Brody, Washington Post 12/14/10

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