CrossFit has seemingly taken the world by storm. With more than 11,600 facilities, CrossFit has gone from a fitness program practised by hardcore athletes and military personnel to a way for anyone to get and stay in shape. Whether you’re a business woman, a stay at home dad, a kid, or a grandma, CrossFit has grown into something that everyone can take part in.
As with all sports and exercise routines, CrossFit comes with a certain level of risk. Injuries may be caused by overuse, improper technique, too little recovery time and bad coaching – just to name a few. Keep in mind, that none of these are more dangerous than sitting on your couch 24/7.
With that said, there are a few injuries we see more often than others in CrossFit. We’ll talk about a few of them here, along with ways to prevent these injuries in the first place, and how to recover from them if you have them.
Lumbar Spine Injuries
What is the Lumbar Spine?
“Lumbar” refers to the lower portion of your back, beginning roughly at the bottom of your ribcage (L1 -where it connects to your thoracic spine) and continuing down to L5, where it connects to your sacral spine and the pelvis. You’ll often hear people refer to it as the “low back” or “lower back”. It is designed to withstand large loads, supporting the weight of your entire torso while remaining flexible.
There is a natural curvature in your lumbar spine. Injury to the area usually occurs when we move past this “normal” range of motion, whether it be through excessive hollowing of your lower back (hyperlordosis) or excessive rounding of your lower back (hyperkyphosis). The addition of load bearing to these excessive movements will typically increase your chances of injury.
Injuries to the Lumbar Spine
While performing CrossFit workouts, your lumbar spine is put through a number of different movements. You bend, you lift, you twist, and you often do it while under load. It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to reduce your risk of lumbar injury is by simply reducing the amount of weight you use. It would be great to PR every day, but in reality, your body needs time to develop and adapt to the demands being placed on it.
You can help to protect your lumbar spine through increased midline stability – probably better known as building core strength
We’ve all seen the middle aged guy whose belly is a little bigger than it should be, standing in a line, rubbing his lower back because he has lumbar pain. The discomfort he is feeling is not the problem, it is a symptom. The real problem is that you must have the core strength to support the load you’re carrying. If you can’t carry your own load without pain, you shouldn’t expect to add weights without pain, either. A better developed core along with some healthier nutritional choices will go a long way in helping this individual address his back pain. The same is true when we are performing deadlifts or any other movement that may cause an injury, the midline needs to be developed so it can engage in each movement to help support the load we are asking our body to carry.
Technique and form also play a vital role in preventing injury to the lumbar spine. Learning correct technique and not lifting too much too soon are key. Find a coach that you connect with and are confident they have your best interests in mind. This coach will play a pivotal role in teaching you correct technique and thus keeping you safe while you make gains in your training.
Pelvic alignment also contributes to lumbar issues. If any part of your pelvis is misaligned, it is unrealistic to think you can load this area in a safe manner. (Read more about some common pelvic dysfunction here). Tight hip flexors (especially the psoas) can contribute to this misalignment. We encourage all our members and athletes to get the MoveWell app. It has proven to be a great, easy to use resource that walks people through mobility and stretching that is specific to whatever movement you will be working on or just to take on some of your more problematic areas, in this case your psoas. But don’t just stretch your psoas – you must also continue to strengthen and stretch your glutes and hamstrings!
What is the shoulder?
This may seem like a silly question to address, but when we talk about shoulder injuries, there are a number of different issues that may be at hand. The shoulder is made up of three bones, the clavicle, scapula, and humerus (aka, the collar bone, shoulder blade, and arm bone). Generally, the ‘shoulder’ refers to the glenohumeral joint, which is the ball and socket joint where the humerus and the scapula interface.
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body. Most of us require a large range of motion for arm and hand movements, but we also require stability and strength to do pushing, pulling, and lifting movements as well. A healthy shoulder has a balance between mobility and strength, but given the large range of motion in the shoulder, it is highly susceptible to injury.
Injuries to the Shoulder
The real problem begins when we move through the shoulder’s range of motion incorrectly. Collectively, we as humans have allowed our posture to suffer. Candy Crush and a texting addiction combined with our ever increasing sedentary lifestyle contribute to an internal rotation of the shoulders (shoulders rolled forward).. As long as this shoulder forward position is not too severe, we can usually make it through our day without too much discomfort.
However, as with almost any sport, CrossFit puts huge demands on the shoulders. We hang from them, push through them, carry weight, and we may even use them to knock down a door from time to time. When we bring the “shoulder forward” posture to the gym and try to perform movements usually reserved for “healthy’ shoulders when we see shoulder impingements and other injuries occur. Shoulders respond best to slow,deliberate movements. If you are a Crossfitter or know someone who Crossfits, you already know that “slower” is not a word we throw around too often. So take note.
The MoveWell App has some great routines to help combat this internal rotation, from Thoracic smash to anterior shoulder compartment smash. Another system that we have adopted at our facility is Crossover Symmetry. It has proven to be a great tool to help rehab, strengthen and develop a healthy organized shoulder for many of our athletes. Working with dumbbells can also help increase stability in the shoulders.
What is the knee?
The poor knee, how we abuse thee. Most of us know a fair bit about the knee, mostly because we put a tremendous amount of stress on our knees every day. We bend, bang and bruise them. We use them to support almost our entire body weight and sometime even the weight of others (who hasn’t enjoyed a good piggyback ride? -ode to my baby momma). They are very important when getting on and off the toilet, help us entertain our kids by bouncing them up and down, sometime for hours on end. They also prove pretty useful when we are at the gym. And typically, they do it all without a single complaint. But every now and then we ask just a little too much from them.
The knee joint joins the upper and lower leg and has two articulations – one between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone) and one between the femur and the patella (the kneecap). It is a hinge joint, which allows for flexion and extension, as well as slight internal and external rotation. There are thirteen muscles which control motion of the knee, as well as four main ligaments that control movement in different directions, making the knee fairly susceptible to damage from a variety of activities.
Injuries to the Knee
One major factor that contributes to knee injury is poor quality of movement. This can be caused by a whole host of reasons from muscle imbalance and bad/blind coaching to tightness. The quickest way to help determine the issue is by having a professional coach look at your form and technique while performing the movements that aggravate the knee the most (e.g squat, lunge, running, etc) Yes, even running can be done incorrectly.
MoveWell has a great routine to address the IT band, which, when done correctly can greatly reduce the tightness that contributes to many knee issues. This sequence focuses on your TFL, hip flexors hamstrings and glutes, which are all major contributing factors to knee problems.
It is also very important to address any muscle imbalances you may have in the muscles that act on the knee. Unless you take part in CrossFit or another type of weightlifting program, chances are your glutes and adductors are underdeveloped. This can cause poor movement mechanics, whether you’re running, squatting or even walking. If your glutes are not strong enough to support your pelvis and thighs, how can you expect them to support your knees?
What’s the remedy? Movement! Squat, lunge mobilize and stretch your way to a healthier knee, all while being supervised by a qualified coach. Sorry, but Youtube tutorials just don’t cut the mustard. When it comes to matters of your body, it is OK to spend a few bucks. If you think hiring a professional is expensive, just wait until you hire an amateur.
If you don’t have such a coach, feel free to snap a video of you performing a movement and forward it to email@example.com and I will gladly take a look and give you some personalized feedback.
Featured Image via Flickr