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Preventing Injuries at the Gym

Preventing Injuries at the Gym

Chinese New Year is coming and there are several new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Shanghai. We should be vigilant, wash our hands frequently, wear masks, and avoid gathering in crowds. It is also wise to focus on improving immunity and strengthening our bodies through exercise.

Exercise is a good way to improve immunity. However, we can find ourselves with sports injuries due to varying fitness levels and types of exercise.

What is a sports injury?

A sports injury is simply a common physical injury acquired in the process of participating in sports. The most common sports injuries are muscle strain, ligament tear, tendon tear (a tendon is the insertion point of muscle connecting bones), joint dislocation, fracture, and cartilage injury (including meniscus).

Unfortunately, manual therapists are treating more and more injuries that result from workouts. Although sports injuries bring pain to sports lovers, with the continuous progress of medicine, most sports injuries can be effectively treated today. After systematic treatment and rehabilitation, most injured people can return to their ideal level of exercise and sports. Moreover, with careful prevention, many injuries can be avoided.

Types of Exercise and Injury

Running on the treadmill may seem like the easiest exercise to do. However, too much time on a treadmill can lead to injury. Walking and running are natural, physiological processes that involve the body working in concert. The body takes important cues from the environment when running outside. The eyes see the scenery going by, the ears sense the motion and create balance. On a treadmill, these environmental cues are missing. Regular treadmill runners may suffer from resulting knee injuries (and eventually, hip problems, which tend to stay hidden longer).

Weight/circuit training is helpful for gaining strength. Unfortunately, even when working out with a qualified trainer you may not be getting the balanced workout that keeps your muscles working well in harmony. Our movements involve sets of muscles working together, often in an antagonistic pair (an agonist and an antagonist). The agonist muscle contracts to make the movement happen, the antagonist’s muscle opposes the action to control the movement and return it to its normal position. For example, when your biceps contract to lift something, your triceps relax and serve as the controlling antagonist. Too much focus on one area can cause imbalance, leading to injury in areas like the chest and knees.

Yoga is a great practice for the body and mind. However, it is important to listen to your body when practicing yoga and to focus on your own incremental progress, rather than competing against others. Yoga should not be painful, and any feelings of pain should be avoided. It seems there are many yoga classes popping up in Shanghai and it is difficult for instructors to focus on individuals in classes of 12 or more students. Small classes allow the instructor to help you with form and problems. Patients commonly come in with shoulder, elbow and knee injuries related to yoga practice.

Tips for Healthy Workouts & Preventing Injury

  1. If you are a regular gym-goer or intense exerciser, have a therapist checkup every 3-6 months. Think of it as a tune-up for your body. When you work so hard to stay in shape, you want to keep your body healthy and aligned so you can continue staying active for many years to come.
  1. Add variety. Alternate weight training and circuit training with global sports such as martial arts, yoga, tai chi, qigong, and other types of exercise with natural movements that are designed to create balance in the body.
  1. Try out different classes, gyms, and trainers and take time to find the right one. Try to avoid settling for a large class with no personal attention or an instructor who doesn’t seem qualified. If the atmosphere feels competitive, you may push yourself to do things that aren’t right for your body. Make sure to get instruction on machines and new exercises to ensure you are doing them properly.

John Zhong provides physical therapy, sports rehabilitation and training at the Downtown (Xintiandi), Hongmei Road (Minhang) clinics. Click here to make an appointment with him.