If you spend your day sitting at a desk then sitting more when you get home, your back is rarely ever challenged. Over time, it will become deconditioned as deep structural changes result in back muscles and joints being much weaker than they should be.
Then, come New Year, you throw yourself into the gym and load up on weights, which the big, strong muscles in your upper and lower body might be able to handle, but the weakened muscles in your back certainly won’t.
With the back muscles unable to handle the load, the excess force goes straight into your facet joints, which are the joints that sit between your vertebrae to facilitate spinal movement.
Just like your ankle or any other joint, these joints can become sprained, resulting in inflammation and injury – which puts your gym progress on hold as you recover or, in more serious injuries, rehabilitate.
This isn’t just something amateurs are guilty of, either. Muscles – thanks to their ample blood supply – adapt far more quickly to increased load than joints or tendons, which need months to get used to a new exercise.
Without setting strict limits on yourself (we recommend no more than a 10% increase in load per week), it’s easy to lose track of the pace of your training and overload your joints and tendons. You may be physically capable of faster progress, but it comes at the cost of your joint health.
The other common gym-based injuries are shoulder injuries such as strains, tears and impingement.
Your shoulders work hard in almost all upper body exercises, but rarely have to work hard in daily life. Think about how often you have to lift your arms above your head in a normal day. Probably not much, right? If you join a gym and start doing intense shoulder presses or kettle bell throws without easing your shoulders into the load, they’re at high risk of injury.
The shoulder is vulnerable to injury not just because of its general disuse in daily life, but also its structure, which is comprised of large global muscles capable of exerting a lot of force, and many smaller muscles that are responsible for rotation and maintaining balance.
While the larger muscles might be able to handle the increased load with the help of the chest and back muscles around them, those smaller muscles will struggle to keep up if they’re untrained, especially if your technique slips during a difficult exercise.
This is why you need to include plenty of rotational and balance shoulder exercises in your routine so that you’re training your smaller muscles as well as your larger ones. These smaller muscles simply won’t activate during more strenuous exercises such as shoulder presses, so it’s easy for them to become deconditioned even if you are exercising regularly.
Next to joining the gym, running is the most common exercise people take up in the New Year, especially in London where parks are in abundance.
Naturally, this makes running injuries a common sight this time of year. Running places around 5-7 times your body weight through your joints, which can be a big shock for the body if you’ve never run before or have fallen off the wagon for some time. This often results in injury of the knee as it struggles to take on the load, leading to anterior knee pain or irritation of the fatty shock-absorbing pad beneath the knee cap.
In addition to the sudden and intense load, there’s a high chance your body simply isn’t adapted for running if you work a desk job. Sitting all day tilts your pelvis forward (anterior pelvic tilt) which, over time, continues even when you stand, walk or run.
If your pelvis isn’t in line, then neither are your hip joints, your knees or your ankles. The most common way these wonky biomechanics manifest is an injury is in the knees, which, in a typical desk-bound posture, will be tilted closer together than they should be.
This misalignment puts strain on the ligaments in the knee joint and can even pull the kneecap out of alignment, causing it to rub against the leg bones, leading to irritation and inflammation.
Because of the many risks to your knee health, running needs to be taken up very, very gradually. Allow yourself around three months to build up to an uninterrupted 20-30 minute run, and please consult with my beginner’s guide before you put on that new pair of running shoes.
Come and see us if you’re in pain
Hopefully this guide helps you avoid common beginner’s injuries, but if I reached you too late and you’re already feeling pain that’s not going away by itself or keeps flaring up during or after exercise, get in touch with us now at email@example.com or 0207 937 1628 to book your appointment.
Kam Sowman BSc (Physio) MCSP MHCP
Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapist
If you have any questions feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org .