Aches, Pains, and Gains: Dealing with Exercise-Related Injuries

by Deion Clifton

If you’re a member of a gym or athletic club, chances are you work out at least once per week. Regular exercise is good for the body and produces many lasting benefits. But, just like any other physical activity, injuries can happen.

Getting hurt sucks and can be a deterrent, causing those who once had fitness goals to go from gains to drained. Acute injuries can happen quickly and often, especially for new or returning gym-goers. The National Library of Medicine found that overuse, short recovery periods, improper technique, poor conditioning, and frequent heavy loads are the leading causes of musculoskeletal pain and injury risk.1

Musculoskeletal pain refers to acute or chronic pain that affects bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.

To prevent the following injuries as much as possible, we recommend taking these preventative measures:

Knee pain is common among runners and weightlifters. A person can experience knee pain for several reasons, including muscle imbalances of strength and flexibility, lifting with bad form, or simply overuse. Some common forms of knee pain include jumper’s knee and runner’s knee.

Injuries such as patellar tendonitis, or jumper’s knee, occur when the patellar tendon gets inflamed due to excessive and repetitive activity, like jumping and sprinting motions. Over time, small tears form and weaken the patellar tendon, causing symptoms such as pain or a dull ache, stiffness, or worsening pain.5 If needed, jumper’s knee can be managed with rest, ice, and pain relievers. This type of condition rarely needs surgery, but in the case of a patellar tendon tear, your provider may recommend it.5

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, or runner’s knee, has multiple causes, including worn cartilage, weak muscles, tight muscles, gait problems, and overuse. It causes a dull, aching pain directly under the kneecap. This pain is often triggered by running, walking up and down stairs, sitting for long periods, or squatting. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that this form of knee pain “makes up about 40% of all running injuries.”4

Wearing comfortable-fitting shoes that provide cushion, flexibility, thin soles, and overall foot comfort help to support the knees. Also, using proper form when exercising, strengthening the hip, glute, quad, and hamstring muscles, and allowing time for rest and recovery between workouts are all things that can help prevent runner’s and jumper’s knee and keep our knees feeling pain-free later in life.


The lumbar, or lower back, constantly holds the body’s weight during activities such as walking, running, and lifting. Because of the weight it bears regularly, it’s easily susceptible to strains. A back strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is pulled, twisted, or torn.

Lumbar strains can be caused by lifting with improper form and doing activities that involve pushing and pulling. Jobs that require you to sit for prolonged periods could also pose a risk.2

To help prevent lumbar strains, try wearing a support belt when lifting. This may help to straighten your lower back. However, a more natural method of obtaining a strong, straight back would be strengthening your core muscles. A strong core helps increase strength, endurance, and stability. Be sure to lift with your legs and glutes, not your back, especially when lifting heavy. If you decide to take the more natural route to proper lifting form, start by doing low-intensity exercises. Low-intensity training will allow you to better focus on maintaining good posture through the course of a workout.

Several injuries can occur in the shoulder due to its extensive range of motion. Strained rotator cuffs are common when lifting weights. This overuse injury is typically caused by excessive weight and improper form.

Tiny tears occur in the microfibers when putting the shoulder through repetitive stress.7 Enough of these tears can eventually lead to a partial tear in the tendon. If the stress continues, one or more tendons
could fully tear, resulting in a torn rotator cuff.

Strained and torn rotator cuff injuries cause dull to severe pain, weakness, and limited mobility. A strain will heal over time, but a torn tendon often requires surgery.

To prevent shoulder strains, warm up and stretch your shoulders before doing any activity, such as lifting or throwing. Dynamic warm ups, like arm circles or chest hugs, help to reduce the risk of injury. If you are going to lift, be sure to use a comfortable weight.

We’ve already discussed a few specific areas that often experience strain, but let’s talk about pulled muscles more broadly. Many of us have experienced the sheer pain of a pulled muscle at one point or another. Otherwise referred to as a muscle strain, pulled muscles occur when a muscular contraction is too physically demanding. When the contraction happens, up to 5% of muscle fibers tear.8

Muscle strains are caused by poor flexibility, improper warm-up before activity, poor conditioning, overexertion, and fatigue. To prevent pulled muscles, stretch properly before exercising, and make sure to use good form and posture during your workout.

Often confused with pulled muscles, muscle cramps (aka charley horses) are sudden contractions brought on by dehydration, low electrolyte levels, physical strain, and inactivity.10 They usually only last up to 15 minutes and can occur in any body muscle but occur most often in the calf.

To prevent muscle cramps, make sure you are properly hydrated. The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking 2.7 liters of water a day for women or about 3.7 liters for men. That’s about 11 cups a day for women or 15 cups a day for men. This means that if you’re a man who sleeps 8 hours a night, then you basically have to drink one cup of water every hour you’re awake! Although you don’t want to overdo the water and wind up with an electrolyte imbalance. A good way to monitor your electrolyte and stay properly hydrated is with, you guessed it, the “golden” standard! Or, should I say the straw-colored standard? You get the point. Also, don’t be afraid to think outside the bottle; most fruits and vegetables are mostly water, so if you don’t like chugging water bottles, get yourself some watermelons!

To relieve a cramp, gently massage the affected area. If the charley horse was brought on by exercise, avoid repeating the activity to prevent it from happening again. Stretching before and after exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do to prevent muscular damage and cramping.

When resistance training, it’s essential to do so correctly. That means taking the proper time to rest between sets and workouts and leaving your ego at the door. Progress takes time, so don’t rush it. In the long run, it’ll be much better for your health to do the exercise correctly using light weights than to do it the wrong way using heavy weights.

Helpful Tip:

always keep form top-of-mind, even when setting up for a work set or unloading your bar after. If you wouldn’t curve your spine while performing a deadlift, you shouldn’t do it when returning your weight plates to the rack, either. Furthermore, injuries often happen when we least expect them, so proper form should be used whether you’re handling 10 lbs. or 100 lbs.


Remember, you’re at the mercy of your body when exercising. Injuries can occur if you’re not training correctly. Factors to take into consideration when exercising are your strength and conditioning. Do exercises that allow you to build comfortably. Do workouts that aren’t too strenuous and in a way that will enable you to maintain proper form. Of course, developing strength requires us to challenge our bodies and push past our previous limits, but there are plenty of ways to progress while minimizing risk.

Any of the above exercise injuries can be prevented with proper training techniques. If you feel like you need help, don’t hesitate to ask. Stop by the Personal Training desk to schedule a Fitness Health Appraisal and get matched with one of our certified personal trainers.




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