Whether you’re starting a new workout program, upping the intensity of an old one, or switching some new moves into your routine, you run the risk of getting injured. As soon as you start feeling pain that lasts for more than a day or two, it’s important to take care of an injury with stretching and strengthening exercises. If your pain is unbearable, it’s best to go to a doctor or a physical therapist, but if the pain in manageable and not getting too much worse, you might be able to fix it with rest, ice, and the proper exercises. Here are some injuries that you shouldn’t ignore:
1. Ankles and Feet
Lower body exercise is the foundation of any cardio routine, and if you mess up your feet or ankles, say goodbye to cardio and hello to some weight gain. Unfortunately, there are a bunch of ways to mess up your feet and ankles, and it’s important to be on the lookout for all of them. If you ever hear a pop or crack in your ankle that leaves you in pain, you may have sprained or torn a ligament or tendon, and you should see a doctor immediately. If your ankle is sore and you haven’t heard any pops, you may have trickier. Any time you feel pain in your heel, there’s a good chance you’ve developed plantar fasciitis, a potentially chronic and extremely annoying condition. Plantar fasciitis stems from overuse of the feet or tightness in the calf muscles, and leads to a tightening of the tissue on the bottom of your feet (the plantar fascia) that results in high levels of heel pain that feel like you’re stepping on glass (the mechanics behind the condition are a bit complicated, but trust us – it hurts). Other foot injuries can be difficult to diagnose, so when you start feeling pain in your heels or arches, it’s important to seek a proper diagnosis.
2. Wrists and Elbows
You don’t really realize how crucial your wrists and elbows are for upper body exercise until you hurt them. Here’s an experiment: see how many exercises you can do while keeping both your wrists and elbows completely locked. Didn’t find many? Then make sure to take injuries to your wrists and elbows seriously. Pain in either joint often results from an overuse or underdevelopment of the muscles in your inner and outer forearms. If you have golfer’s elbow (pain on the inside of the elbow), for instance, it might be linked to a weakness or strain of the muscles of your inner forearm. Pain in the outer side of your wrist may be linked to the same issues in muscles on your outer forearm. To avoid injury to your wrists and elbows, particularly when weight-training, make sure to take some time out of your week to stretch and strengthen these key areas.
3. Lower Back
If you thought it was hard to find exercises that don’t involve your wrists or elbows, you’ll have a doozy of a time looking for ones that don’t involve your lower back. Hint: there aren’t any. If you have a lower back injury, it’s crucial you see a doctor immediately, since any sort of exercise, even yoga or swimming, can aggravate it, particularly if it’s a spinal problem rather than a muscular one. In order to avoid injuring your lower back, it’s important to strength both your lower back muscles as well as your abs to provide a lot of support for your spine. Remember: your upper body is spending all day pushing down on your lower back, and without the proper muscles to hold it up, you won’t even be able to stand. When exercising your lower back muscles, be sure to start with lighter weights and perfect form, or you might cause more harm than good. As for your abs, see if you can work up to 4-5 hard ab workouts a week to keep your lower back strong.
Another key joint, the shoulders are also fairly easy to overuse. Shoulder-specific exercises like shoulder presses or lateral raises can put a lot of strain on the often under-worked rotator cuff. Even low impact exercises like swimming can strain the rotator cuff, or even the less-used labrum. Pushups are a great way to target various parts of your shoulders and make sure they’re functioning properly. Another preventative exercise that might help is rotator cuff strengthening using a resistance band. Internal and external rotations are another key way of strengthening the muscles around the shoulder.
Your head is a lot heavier than you think it is, and it can be a pain supporting it all day. If you train without proper form, it’s even more likely that you’ll find a way to overwork the muscles in your neck. A common mistake is dropping your head while doing pushups, or moving your head while doing ab work. We wouldn’t recommend focusing on neck-strengthening exercises unless your planning on starting a neck-intensive sport like wrestling, but it’s important to have perfect form where your neck is involved, and also to stretch out the muscles. One awesome stretch involves putting your left hand in the small of your back while your right hand gently pulls your neck to the side. Switch sides and repeat 1-2 times for 20-30 seconds each. Another key stretch will target the back of your neck and your upper back. Place one hand in between your shoulder and the back of your neck, and with the other, gently pull your neck down and slightly to the side. You can adjust the angle to target whatever area is bothering you the most. Again, switch sides and repeat 1-2 times for 20-30 seconds each. Good luck!