A consistent fitness routine is a key component to an overall healthy lifestyle. But workout-related injuries can stop people from sticking with it, especially for women who have a higher risk for common injuries like ankle sprains and stress fractures. Should we follow the mindset of no pain, no gain?
My name is Dr. Karl Henrikson. I am an orthopedic foot and ankle specialist and one of the owners of OSMS. Day after day, I meet with patients who are experiencing some kind of workout-related injury. And while I love talking with and getting to know different people in our community, my biggest hope is that everyone can enjoy the things they love doing or follow a healthy fitness routine without an injury preventing them from doing so. Because while some injuries aren’t always preventable, there are tangible things you can do to avoid a halt to your fitness journey.
Common workout-related injuries
These are four common workout-related injuries:
- Ankle sprains occur when the ankle rolls, twists, or turns in an awkward way causing a stretch or tear in the ligaments that help hold the ankle bones together.
- Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone caused by repetitive stress or force.
- Plantar fasciitis involves inflammation of the band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and from your heel bone to the ball of your foot.
- Achilles tendonitis is an irritation or inflammation of the Achilles tendon which connects your heel bone to your calf.
The last three – stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendinitis – tend to develop when your workout routine involves repetitive motions and overuse of those areas.
Other risk factors can contribute to the development of some of these injuries. While Achilles tendonitis tends to occur equally in both men and women, ankle sprains and stress fractures are a different story. Studies show that women have a higher susceptibility for ligament injuries, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis. But that does not mean women altogether should avoid certain aspects of their workout routine. There are simple and straightforward steps women can take to get the most out of their workout in a safe and healthy way.
How to avoid workout-related injuries
Shoes, shoes, shoes! But not just any kind of shoe. Your footwear makes a huge difference in your health. Whether you’re cardio training or weight training, everyone should be wearing supportive shoes that are new or in good condition.
Beyond your footwear, a fitness routine should be treated like a marathon. This is essential for everyone but particularly for women who are at a greater risk for workout-related injuries. You must take it slow so your body can adjust to a new level of activity. This is especially important to avoid ankle sprains which are not always preventable; however, they often occur when you jump into a new routine too fast. The muscles that support your ankle need to learn how to stabilize over time. So start slow and work up to your goals so that your muscles can adapt along the way.
One size doesn’t fit all
There are copious amounts of ways to organize a fitness routine, and the best routine is one that is individually tailored for you. Preventing workout-related injuries often comes down to knowing your body and what it’s currently capable of. Let’s take cardio training as an example.
We know it’s important to ease into a new routine to prevent ligament injuries like ankle sprains. So for those just starting out, ellipticals and bicycles (both moving and stationary) can provide a low-impact option until your body gets used to increased activity. These are also terrific options for those who have arthritis.
Having said that, there’s no need to avoid something like a treadmill for someone already acclimated to running. Your musculoskeletal system has adapted to handle that kind of high-impact activity.
The key takeaway is that women can partake in a safe fitness routine that delivers healthy results even if the routine itself looks very different from men or other women. Just make sure to use caution when making a change in your activity level, go slow, and choose workouts and machines that won’t put undue stress on your body that it’s not used to.
When are aches and pains from your workout a cause for concern?
When it comes to motivational mantras, we’ve heard them all.
“Push through the pain!”
“If your muscles are on fire, you’re doing it right!”
“No pain, no gain!”
Working out will indeed come with normal aches and pains. So how do you know if the pain you’re feeling is expected or due to a workout-related injury? You’ll come to recognize what normal muscle soreness feels like for you, so pay attention to anything atypical, especially if it’s around your joints. Specific things to look out for include:
- Severe pain
- Pain that remains significant after two days
- Limited movement
- Painful popping sounds
- Inability to do things you used to be able to
If you experience any of these symptoms or something just doesn’t feel right, it’s best to have it looked at by a doctor.
Your choices to get seen by a medical professional
If you believe the pain you’re experiencing is more than the typical soreness you can expect from working out, you have a choice in where you go to receive care. Your primary care provider is an option who may end up giving you a referral; however, a referral for orthopedic care typically isn’t required, which opens additional doors for you.
The OSMS walk-in clinic is available Monday-Friday between 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.for those with an orthopedic injury. We accept most insurance plans, and you are guaranteed to be seen by an orthopedic doctor who will examine, take x-rays if needed, diagnose and treat the injury all in one visit. And even though you’re seeing a doctor without an appointment, it’s billed as a regular office visit, ultimately saving you time and money. Why? Because our main goal is getting you back to doing what you love to do.
Following a fitness routine offers numerous benefits for both your physical and mental health, but it’s important to work out in a safe way. Remember to take it slow and that your routine may look different than the person next to you. Just listen to your body and pay attention to what it has to say. Don’t try to push through abnormal pain and don’t be afraid to take a couple of days off to give your body a rest. After all, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.