Each year, during the months of January and February the hospital emergency rooms are packed with people who were just trying to get back into shape. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 500,000 workout-related injuries occur each year in the United States. The major causes include people wanting to do too much too fast and overusing their muscles, as well as poor technique during weight training and other exercise regimens.
Even people who are in great shape can sustain life-changing injuries from accidents in a workout environment. Take the example of Kevin Ogar who was once a top-level CrossFit athlete. He was performing a routine “snatch” with barbells at a competition in Costa Mesa, California on January 12, 2014, when he abruptly lost control of the weight bar. Media reports noted, “The massive weights fell onto the floor, bounced against another set of weights and hit Ogar in the back, severing his spine.” He immediately fell to the floor and is now paralyzed from the waist down.
If this tragedy can happen to a professional trainer who’s in excellent shape, what are the risks to a less-than-fit individual who’s more than a little rusty when it comes to proper workout form? Most neophyte athletes look to a personal trainer to help them learn proper form and develop workout regimens for losing weight and gaining strength.
However, how can one determine if a personal trainer knows what they are doing, especially as it relates to back injuries resulting from exercise?
We spoke with two men who have first-hand knowledge of how vigorous physical activities can cause back injuries. They also know how you can avoid these injuries in the first place. Skylar Richards is the head athletic trainer of FC Dallas, a franchise in Major League Soccer. Dr. Michael Hisey is a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute and the team spine specialist for the professional soccer club.
The Players on FC Dallas Rely on Skylar Richards
As the official spine specialists for FC Dallas, Texas Back Institute is on call to help these world-class athletes avoid back injuries and if these injuries occur, to help Richards get the players’ injury diagnosed and rehabilitated as soon as possible. We asked Skylar to explain the differences between an athletic trainer and a personal trainer.
“An athletic trainer is more medical-focused. We look at injuries – how they can be avoided and managed,” he said. “A personal trainer is a strength and conditioning specialist who usually operates out of a personal gym and helps you develop your physique and physical well-being. An athletic trainer will help an athlete get back to where they were before they were injured.”
As someone who deals with injury management, Richards has exemplary insights into the questions non-athletes should ask of a potential trainer before enlisting their help. For his thoughts into the credentials, a personal trainer should have, please click here.
So, what are the biggest problems a person who is just starting an exercise program – particularly weight-lifting – can encounter? The FC Dallas athletic trainer says it’s trying to do too much too quickly.
“You should always work on technique and motion first,” he says. “If you can move well, have good posture and align your spine in a way that it loads the weight correctly, you’re always going to be safe and that’s what’s important.”
If you’d like to hear the rest of Skylar’s thoughts on problems associated with working out, click the next video screen.
In order to combat the epidemic in obesity – among both children and adults – a wide range of ages are now working out. We asked Richard’s opinion if one’s age should preclude vigorous workouts.
“You can always work with a qualified trainer at any age,” he noted. “That’s why it’s important to pick a qualified individual. They will know the appropriate exercises and the intensity of these depending on age and strength level.”
Click below to hear Skylar’s thoughts into the credentials a personal trainer should have, problems associated with working out, and whether you can be too old or too young to exercise.
Five Ways to Avoid Back Injuries When Exercising
The spine specialist responsible for treating the injuries and keeping the professional athletes at FC Dallas on the field is Dr. Michael Hisey a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute. Because his practice involves treating professional athletes, as well as the rest of us who just want to get into shape, he has some excellent insights into ways both groups can avoid injuries when working out.
“While there are hundreds, maybe thousands of ways to keep one’s back safe while exercising, here are five general tips to keep your back safe from injuries.”
#1 Warm up and slowly increase the activity
A person should always warm up before working out and then slowly increase the pace of the activity over time. Most people forget about this warm-up phase and then immediately go full speed on whatever activity they are pursuing. This is a recipe for back injuries. Professionals (like the FC Dallas players) arrive hours before a competition to prepare themselves for peak performance. Thoroughly stretching muscles before the activity helps prepare them for the stress – and warming down can be as beneficial as warming up. Stretching when muscles are already warm can lead to gains in overall flexibility.
#2 Be aware of gender differences
Women are more prone to back injuries during their menstrual cycle because hormones increase the looseness of the joints and make injuries more likely. Women are also more prone to ACL (anterior cruciate ligament – knee) injuries which can occur in basketball, racket sports, soccer, and skiing. Men are more likely to injure themselves while doing Pilates, stair stepping and by using too much weight on free-weights and weight machines.
#3 Know your body’s limitations
If there is a history of lower back pain, knee or shoulder pain it is important to avoid sudden stress on these areas. It’s better to slowly build up the strength. In the case of back pain, it’s advisable to avoid back stretches on a stability ball until core stabilizing muscles are conditioned enough to allow these exercises. Once a back is ready for it, a stability ball can be an excellent way to activate these core muscles.
#4 Be careful to avoid too much repetition
Doing any activity over and over in a given workout can injure muscles and joints. The best advice to avoid repetition injuries is to (1) take a day off from exercising every other day and (2) vary the type of activities each session. For example, you could run on the treadmill on Monday and lift weights on Wednesday.
#5 Don’t make sudden moves
Many back injuries from exercise come from someone making sudden moves on either weights or machines without properly setting up. It’s important to test the weight before attempting to lift it and then slowly lift using proper form. This will save your back from muscle pain and subsequent damage to your discs.
When Your Back Hurts From Exercise
If your workout program results in a painful back or neck, try resting for a week and taking mild medication such as ibuprofen. If this doesn’t help, you should schedule a visit to see a spine specialist