GREENWICH, Conn. -- Lifting weights is a great way to stay in shape and build lean muscle and strong bones. However, if done incorrectly, sprains, strains and more serious injuries can occur, according to Dr. Paul Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon at Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery Specialists in Greenwich.
“Generally speaking, most injuries from weight lifting occur from improper body placement and/or improper technique,” said Sethi. For instance, back strains, injuries and herniated discs can result if the lifter has poor posture, a weak core or if he or she relies primarily on the back muscles to do all the heavy lifting. Sethi recommends bending at the knees and using the thigh and core muscles to distribute the weight and relieve strain on the spine.
Knee problems can also be reduced by developing thigh muscles and the core. The IT band, which runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee, can become inflamed from repetitive squatting motions if the feet are not positioned correctly. IT band injuries, common among runners, occur when the band repeatedly rubs across the knee joint. Placing the feet square with the hips with toes pointed forward allows the knees to be correctly aligned throughout the squatting and lunging motion. Leg strengthening exercises, especially for the gluteal and quadriceps, can take a lot of pressure away from the knee ligaments.
Any lifting exercise that requires repetitive shoulder motions, particularly reaching over the head, puts an athlete at risk for overuse injuries and labral tears, especially if there is pre-existing shoulder instability or if the weight is too heavy. To minimize the chance of injury, Sethi advises lifters to warm up and stretch the entire shoulder area before lifting.
Despite the injury potential, lifting weights is an important part of training for both professional and recreational athletes. By far the best approach to lifting is to start off with lighter weights and consult a trainer about proper form. Seek medical assistance if you develop persistent pain that does not resolve within a week of rest.