There are fitness enthusiasts and there are fitness fanatics. If you’ve ever experienced it, you know in which bucket CrossFit athletes fall.
Since CrossFit gyms started popping up, the workout regimen has become synonymous with extreme fitness. It conjures up images of fit men and women turning tomato red as they lift a 400-pound barbell or do a handstand push-up.
CrossFit is catching on. In fact, it’s estimated there are more than 12,000 CrossFit gyms where people can go to get a good workout—and possibly a painful injury.
CrossFit differs from some other workouts because it encourages the athlete to compete with themselves instead of other individuals which gives them the opportunity to set personal goals in ‘competition’ with him or herself.
Like any athletic activity, CrossFit does come with a risk of injury. About 20 percent of people have injured themselves doing CrossFit, says the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.
Most Common CrossFit Injuries
The most common CrossFit injuries tend to occur in the knees and shoulders. Athletes who do multiple pull-ups—as many reps as possible—during CrossFit may damage their rotator cuffs, or get tendonitis, a common condition that occurs when the tendon that keeps your arm in your shoulder socket, or rotator cuff, becomes damaged.
Most CrossFit-related knee injuries come from something called patellar maltracking. That’s when the cartilage behind the kneecap repeatedly rubs against the cartilage of the femur, or thigh bone.
It often stems from the load the kneecap has to bear when the athlete goes into the squat position. With repetitive stress on the painful area, you will eventually start to break down the cartilage in the knee, which leads to the development of osteoarthritis.
So, how can you prevent CrossFit injuries? Here are a few tips:
Feel the burn, not the pain
Soreness and muscle fatigue are normal signs that the muscle has been overloaded, but the burn you feel when building muscle is different from feeling outright pain. Pain means an injury is on the way or already happened.
If you’re doing repetitive pull-ups and you feel a sharp pain in your shoulder, continuing this activity might turn rotator cuff tendonitis into a rotator cuff tear which may require surgery, whereas stopping early at the stage where the tendonitis is developing will help you prevent surgery and being out for an extended period of time for a rotator cuff tear.
Yes, the self-competing nature is what makes CrossFit unique, but you still have to listen to your body. Many CrossFit athletes know when something isn’t right, but they end up making it worse by trying to push past the pain.
Find a good CrossFit gym
The same study that reported the 20 percent CrossFit injury rate found that one thing can make a difference in preventing injuries. No, it’s not shorter or fewer sessions. Age didn’t matter either.
Turns out that having a good coach can make a big difference. CrossFit athletes who had supervision from a coach at all times had an injury rate of less than 15 percent. A quality coach will be able to look at the athlete's mechanics during each exercise and be able to tell if something is wrong. Coaches should be pretty well educated about how to avoid getting an injury or aggravating any existing one.
Find a doctor who’s educated about CrossFit
CrossFit sometimes gets a bad rap. People see the extreme movements and swear it off. Some doctors even discourage it when their patient gets injured. However, a good physician will help their patients to participate in the activities they love. They will educate the athlete about how to prevent injuries and manage existing ones without having to completely stop.
Maybe that doesn’t mean telling them to ban CrossFit, but it could mean telling them to do it three days a week versus five.
If you’re in a good CrossFit gym, you may never have an injury. It all depends on how you modify the exercises to fit your body and quality coaching.