Most Common Gym Injuries

Though it’s one of the only places we go solely to improve our health and our bodies, the gym can also be a dangerous place. Gym-related injuries are very common and, if you’re not careful with your body, can cause you serious or long-lasting damage.

Avoiding gym accidents comes down to a number of factors, including your form and technique, how you warm up and the rest you afford your body. Many gym injuries happen as a result of excessive or repetitive strain so knowing the signs and how to recover property is vital so you can carry on hitting the gym and pushing yourself to reach your goals.

Below are some of the most common injuries caused by or made worse during exercise, as well as how to treat and avoid them.

Use the arrows to explore the biggest threats you face at the gym.

NOTE: The team A-List Nutrition are not qualified health professionals and therefore our treatment suggestions should be taken as guidance. if you are concerned for your health as a result of exercise, it's always best to get advice from your GP.

1. Plantar Fasciitis

What is it: 

Your plantar fascia is a ligament that connects your heel to the front of your foot. Overstretching your feet or applying too much pressure to your feet can cause a pain in your heel or the bottom of your arch.

The most common exercises that cause plantar fasciitis include running and martial arts like kickboxing.

You may have plantar fasciitis if you find walking particularly painful after sleeping or resting or you find the pain goes away while exercising but worsens once you’ve stopped.

How to treat: 

If you think you have plantar fasciitis, you’ll need to try and rest your feet as much as possible and keep them raised when sitting down. If you still want to exercise, try something less impactful on your feet like swimming.

You may also want to try some gentle stretching exercises that focus on your calf, ankle heel and foot to try and relieve some of the tightness and ache that comes with the condition.

How to avoid:

If you’re a runner or somebody who’s on their feet a lot, plantar fasciitis might have a significant impact on your daily life so it’s important to try and avoid it as best you can.

Stretching your calves and feet every time you run will keep the muscles from tightening and causing you pain. Switching up your exercises will also help keep plantar fasciitis at bay.

2. Lower Back Pain

Most common issues:

Your back and your spine are what’s literally holding your body up so taking good care of them is essential for anyone but especially those who regularly exercise. You may already be struggling to maintain good spine health at work so good form and technique in the gym goes a long way.

Some of the most common causes of lower back pain when exercising are excessive strain or tightness. You may be especially vulnerable to this type of pain if you aren’t very active throughout the work week and spend your weekends exercising or playing sports like golf.

Squats and deadlifts with improper form are usually the biggest causes of gym back pain, making it one of the most common bodybuilding injuries, but any excessive twisting movements can also be hard on the lower back.

Acute back pain that lasts for several weeks may be a sign of serious injury which you should consult a doctor for.

How to treat:

If you’ve over-exerted yourself, you may need to take a break and give your back some time to recover. However, this doesn’t mean staying in bed for days on end as this could actually be worse for your back than returning to your normal activities.

To relieve back muscle injuries, try lower-impact exercise like yoga to stretch out your back muscles regularly. As your lower back and stomach muscles work closely together, strengthening your core can also help improve your form and protect your back when working out.

How to avoid:

When golfing, squatting or doing any other exercise that puts your strain on your back, you need to maintain a neutral spine throughout. If using weights, don’t go overboard with your load and always increase the load gradually to avoid overexertion.

As with most exercises, stretching out your lower back can keep the muscles from seizing and tightening following increased strain, so this should be an essential step of your routine.

3. Knee Pain

Most common issues:

Leg injuries like knee pain are another common gym problem that results from a number of issues. The most common diagnosis of knee pain when exercising is runner’s knee, which includes a number of knee complaints, such as IT band syndrome.

IT band syndrome

IT band syndrome (ITBS), specifically, is irritation or inflammation of the iliotibial band that runs along the front of your leg from your hip to the larger lower leg bone. This may manifest as tightness or pain in the front of your knee.

Runner’s knee

In addition to ITBS, runner’s knee can include a deterioration of the cartilage below your kneecap or pain in the anterior of your knee. This is most often caused by running but can be a common football, biking or walking injury as well.

Leg press injury

If you’ve injured your leg after using the leg press or you feel a twinge in your knee during reps, you’ll need to take steps to support your knees early so you don’t cause any lasting damage.

How to treat:

ITBS

As with many other exercise-related issues, resting and icing the area can help relieve some of the pain. You may also find relief in gentle stretches of the thigh and hip as these are the main points of connection for the IT band.

Runner’s knee

Following the RICE method should be your first step when treating runner’s knee. This includes rest, ice, compression and elevation. As this can be caused by a number of issues, proper rest and over the counter medicine are an effective way to treat pain without an official diagnosis.

Leg press injury

If you experience pain after using the leg press, avoid other exercises that put strain on this part of the knee. If this is a consistent issue, ensure you give your knees plenty of rest and keep them raised when you can.

How to avoid:

With all leg injuries, proper stretching of the calf, hips and knees is the best way to avoid causing unnecessary strain or tightening. If you’re a regular runner, ensure you’re taking rest days or take one day a week to switch up your exercise routine and try out something less impactful on the knees.

When using the leg press, poor form is the most common issue so ensuring your heels remain on the pad and that your knees are hip width apart will reduce the pressure on your knees.

4. Shin Splints

What is it:

Shin splints are pain and tenderness along the shin, most often after running. They are most common in athletes who have recently intensified their workout or in those who run on hard and uneven surfaces. If you’re a runner it can be disappointing to find shin splints limits your ability level so proper rest and careful treatment is important.

How to treat:

In addition to running on hard ground, your running shoes could be what’s causing your shin splints. It’s recommended you change your running shoes every 500-800km, as this ensures your feet are properly supported when you run.

You may also want to try switching to a lower-impact form of exercise, or one that doesn’t require the use of your shins, while you rest. Flexibility exercises like yoga will keep your muscles loose and free of tension, which can help manage the pain of shin splints.

How to avoid:

Having the proper equipment and stretching before every run can be good ways of avoiding shin splints. If you’ve recovered from shin splints, you’ll need to ease yourself into working out again to ensure your shins stay healthy.

5. Shoulder Pain

Most common issues:

Shoulder pain after a workout is another common bodybuilding injury but can also be a result of other sports like tennis and swimming. If you’re a lifter, you may experience a rotator cuff injury, which can range from tendinitis to a more serious rotator cuff tear. On the other hand, an AC joint sprain is common in cyclists, divers and as a result of falls.

Rotator cuff injury

Your rotator cuff is a collection of muscles that keep your arm in your shoulder socket. This is a common weight lifting injury which can occur from sharp lifts or excessive strain when lifting. A rotator cuff tear is where the tendons are pulled away from the bone and can cause severe pain and take much longer to recover from. Most commonly, your rotator cuff injury will be caused by inflammation or irritation in the tendons.

AC joint sprain

A hard shock to your shoulder, such as a pothole when cycling or a sharp fall, can cause a sprain in the muscles that connect your clavicle to your shoulder bone.

How to treat:

For most people who experience tendonitis or strain in their shoulder, simple treatment methods like rest, over the counter medicine, stretching and hot or cold packs will be enough to manage the symptoms. It’s important that rotator cuff and AC joint injuries are cared for early as tendonitis can develop into a tear which takes a much longer time to recover from.

How to avoid:

Shoulder pain after a workout suggests your muscles are being strained and often means you need to rest before exerting yourself again. If using weights, make sure to gradually increase the load to avoid pushing yourself too far.

6. Neck Injuries

Most common issues:

Neck strain

The most common cause of neck strain in the gym is typically poor posture when working out. If your workout is giving you a stiff neck or you feel pain in your neck after using weights, it’s important to address this issue before it becomes more difficult to resolve. Those who work at desks or in jobs that put additional strain on your neck throughout the day may find that neck strain when working out is more common.

Pinched nerve

A pinched nerve typically causes sharp, shooting pain and muscle weakness that differentiates it from other muscle pains. If you’ve been working out and feel a sharp twinge unlike your typical post-workout aches, you may have pinched a nerve. A pinched nerve is caused by excessive pressure from the muscles and tissues around the nerve.

How to treat:

For most neck injuries at the gym, the solution is simply rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or painkillers. There are a variety of stretches that can help reduce the feeling of stiffness and relieve the pressure on the nerves in your neck.

If the pain persists or gets worse over time, you should speak to your doctor for more advice.

How to avoid:

Most neck stiffness and strain caused by exercise can be avoided through proper posture and form. You need to be especially careful with overhead exercises like overhead squats, overhead presses and deadlifts.

Doing stretches before these exercises can keep your neck safe from excessive harm and should always be part of your regular routine. You can also help avoid neck pain after the gym by maintaining a straight back throughout exercises like squats and keeping the neck in line with the spine with your chin tucked slightly will help you maintain good form.

7. Sprained Ankle

What is it:

A sprained ankle is a weakening of the muscles and tissues that hold the ankle and the leg bones in place. It’s a very common injury that often affects runners but can happen when you lose your footing and over-extend your ankle.

How to treat:

The RIPE method is one of the most often-advised strategies to treat a sprain. Rest, ice painkillers and elevation will help reduce swelling and keep your pain levels low so you can build up your strength again. Recent studies have found that compression does little to resolve the issue of a sprain and other data shows using your injured ankle earlier on can help with the healing process.

While rest is vital, make sure to exercise your injured ankle often to start building strength and prevent ongoing weakness. There are also many rehabilitative exercises you can do during your recovery.

How to avoid:

Stretching your ankle before working out will help keep the muscles loose and flexible so that when they are overexerted, your body is in a better place to deal with the strain. Ankle strengthening exercises are also useful for protecting your ankles from injury. Try standing on one leg in yoga exercises like warrior III and tree pose regularly to work out your ankles.

8. Wrist Pain

Most common issues:

Carpal tunnel

Carpal tunnel can’t really be caused by your workout, as it’s often to do with repetitive strain on the wrists that inflame the tendons around the nerve in the centre of your wrist. However, if you already experience wrist pain or have carpal tunnel, exercises like planks, push ups, overhead squats and burpees can exacerbate the pain or discomfort.

Strain

More common than carpal tunnel, wrist strain can sometimes lead to intense discomfort during planks, push ups or bicep curls, especially in those with poor form or those who don’t stretch properly and regularly do the same exercises.

How to treat:

If you experience pain in your wrists, you’ll need to stop doing exercises that put additional pressure on the wrists until you’re feeling better. If need be, taking painkillers and icing the area will help speed up the recovery process. You may want to assess how you use your wrists in your everyday life and consider whether there are adaptations you can make to relieve pressure on your wrists even when you’re not working out.

How to avoid:

Wrist strengthening exercises and stretches are some of the best ways to keep your wrists comfortable and safe. Try bending your wrists forward and back with your arms straight and your shoulder back or hold a small dumbbell with your palm facing up and forearm supported on your leg, raise and lower the dumbbell in a slow and controlled way.

9. Elbow Pain

Most common issues:

One of the most common gym-related injuries affecting the elbows is tennis elbow. This can be felt as a discomfort on the outside of your elbow and down your forearm when using your elbow or sometimes even when your elbow is at rest.

Though it’s common in tennis players, any athlete who regularly puts strain or repeatedly uses their elbows can experience tennis elbow.

On the other hand, golfer’s elbow is felt on the inside of the elbow and can also be felt by those who play golf and racket sports or lift weights.

How to treat:

If you experience pain in your elbow when working out, it’s a good idea to stop doing exercises that require you to put excessive strain on your elbows and forearms until the pain has cleared. If you are diagnosed with tennis elbow, you may need to rest until your body is fully recovered, which typically takes around a year.

Icing the area and performing gentle stretches can help relieve pain and relax the area, preventing stiffness from affecting your everyday joint movement.

How to avoid:

Avoid doing exercises that use only your elbow and forearm for too long and consider varying your exercises regularly. You may also want to strengthen your forearm muscles by using small weights or doing squeezing exercises. Make sure you’re using the right equipment for your size and strength and keep your wrist rigid when lifting to relieve pressure on your elbow.

10. Groin Strain

What is it:

Groin strain or groin pull is an injury common in athletes whose sport involves a lot of running, such as football, hockey and basketball. It’s usually felt as a tenderness in the inner thigh and can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. No matter the pain level, if you have pulled a muscle or strained your groin, you’ll need to rest and recover properly to avoid it happening again in the future.

How to treat:

The RICE method will work for groin strain treatment, helping to reduce any swelling and deal with pain so you can exercise your muscles and help them recover faster. Though the injury usually affects the inner thigh the most, stretching the other areas of your thigh will help all your muscles stay relaxed and prevent tension from prolonging your recovery.

How to avoid:

If you’re often running or jumping when you exercise, the right shoe support is key to avoiding groin pulls, especially if you’ve already had one in the past. As with most other muscle issues, doing regular groin and thigh strengthening exercises will keep all the muscles of your legs strong and prevent the overexertion of a single muscle group.

11. Hamstring Strain

Most common issues:

Hamstring strain is a popular gym problem that affects your legs. While this is another issue that often affects runners, weightlifters may experience hamstring strain higher up the leg as a result of overexertion during deadlifts and squats. If this is the case, you’ll need to adapt your posture and review the amount of weight you’re lifting with during your recovery.

How to treat:

In addition to rest, ice, compression and elevation, you may need to work your way back up to full strength again. Depending on the extent of your injury, you may need to gradually rehabilitate your injury through several steps but if your injury is mild, you could try an exercise that is less impactful on the hamstring, such as cycling or swimming once most of the pain has gone.

How to avoid:

Your hamstring is actually a collection of muscles so exercising and training your entire thigh is important, especially if you’re a runner. If you’re a weightlifter, deadlifts and squats require pelvic tilt and spine extension that put additional pressure on your hamstrings, so cycling your stance to take pressure off this area regularly will keep from overworking your hamstrings.

12. Arm Pain

Most common issues:

One of the most common arm-related weightlifting injuries is a bicep strain or tear. Bicep strain is often felt in the centre of the muscle and will be different from typical post-workout muscle soreness as it can often involve swelling, tenderness and muscle weakness.

If you’re a bodybuilder or somebody who works out without properly stretching, you may also experience bicep tendonitis. This is caused by repeated small tears in the muscles and tissue of your arm that causes inflammation at either the elbow or the shoulder where the tendons connect muscle to bone.

How to treat:

For tendonitis or strain, taking a rest from the exercises causing you pain is the first step to recovery. Consider the site of your pain when planning exercises and stretches to aid your recovery. For example, if you’re experiencing tendonitis in your shoulder, stretches that aim shoulder flexibility may help speed up the process. If your pain is in the centre of your bicep, try exercises like bicep curls and shoulder or elbow flexion with lower weights that you’re used to.

How to avoid:

Tendonitis is most often caused through repetitive actions so ensuring you have a varied workout routine can avoid causing injuries to your muscles. It’s also important to gradually build up the weights you lift, as going too quickly can cause strains and tears even if you’ve properly warmed up.


Advice from a Physio

We spoke with chartered physiotherapist Katie Knapton of physioFast on how best to avoid injuries when returning to exercise or pushing ourselves to new limits.

  • For those suffering with injuries, it’s important to try and maintain fitness levels so introducing low-impact exercises like swimming and cycling can help take the pressure off of problem areas like the feet and elbows while continuing activity.

 

  • Always check your technique before you start and if you get twinges, act on them instead of ignoring them until it’s too late.

 

  • Be aware when starting something new not to overdo it - for example playing a new sport or lifting weights.

 

  • It is important to globally strengthen and stretch your muscles as they all work to support each other. Whether you’re playing football, starting weight training or pushing yourself in the gym, the best way to avoid strain is comprehensive preparation.

 

  • Check you’re wearing suitable clothing and footwear.

 

  • Often more benefit will be gained by combining a general strengthening regime with a regular stretching regime to address any flexibility issues. However, to improve flexibility, as with strength, this needs to be performed at least three times weekly.