Sports injuries encompass a wide variety of different injuries that can occur during fitness training. A sports injury directly affects the musculoskeletal system that enables the body’s active movements. These types of injuries can compromise the muscles, tissues, bones, tendons, or ligaments that make a variety of active movements possible. I published many articles about injuries on this blog already.
Let’s face it: injuries suck. You are out of business for a while, you may lose your gains, it may hold you back in your health and fitness journey and you may be crumpy. In this article, we will take a look at common sports injuries during functional training (esp. CrossFit), risk factors, how to avoid them and potential lawsuits.
Sports Injury Risk Factors for CrossFit Athletes
Sports injuries have a very wide spectrum and happen in all kinds of sports. However, specifically, in functional and high-intensity training such as CrossFit we can identify the following common risk factors.
Overtraining occurs when an athlete hasn’t taken the time to adequately recover following intensive and repetitive training. Misinterpreting abnormal muscle soreness or poor performance as a signal to train harder has the potential to aggravate previous injuries, or cause the body to break down long-term. It's important to understand and properly address the way fatigue can impact performance and increase an individual’s injury risk.
Year Long Exposure
Hand in hand with overtraining, the lack of a scheduled off-season for regularly competing CrossFit athletes provides an additional amount of risk exposure. A scheduled offseason recovery period, which collegiate or professional athletes in other sports may enjoy, provides time for the body to rest and gradually return to competition. Without this, the tendency to aggravate minor issues into long-term sports injury problems can occur. Therefore, listening to your body, maintaining proper nutrition, and balancing recovery time are especially important to CrossFit athletes.
Sports Injury Categories and Equipment Risk
Sports injuries can be broken down into two different broad categories. The first is acute injuries that occur suddenly during active movement. For example, this can happen during a fall or when someone twists an ankle. On the other hand, we have chronic injuries. Chronic injuries occur due to sustained overuse and are gradually worsened over time. An acute ankle injury would be something like a dislocation or sprain, while a type of chronic injury would be a stress fracture.
While functional training like CrossFit carries increased injury risk due to its high intensity, functional exercises in general carry less risk due to less equipment use. According to the National Safety Council’s 2021 sports injury study, exercise equipment was the number one factor and accounted for approximately 409,000 sports injuries. Likewise, motorized treadmills accounted for approximately 15,800 emergency room treated injuries in 2020 alone. CrossFit’s emphasis on body weight and functional exercise can eliminate exposure to common injury-causing equipment.
Common CrossFit Sports Injury Examples
The International Journal of Sports and Exercise Medicine conducted a systematic review of the most common CrossFit injuries using 2021 data. 4,182 participants were studied and 2,111 injuries were found over the collection period. This data suggests the importance of proper form and best practices, especially when performing exercises targeting the following areas.
Shoulder injuries were the most commonly reported injury in the study. The participants reported 533 shoulder injuries in total. The exercises most commonly associated with the shoulder injuries reported were pull-ups, ring dips, and muscle-ups. Below are some examples of the common sports injuries that affect the shoulder area:
- Instability occurs when one of the shoulder joints moves or is forced out of its normal position. The resulting pain is usually felt when lifting the arm. Long term, this condition can result in the dislocation of the shoulder joint.
- Impingement is caused by the excessive force of the shoulder muscles against the shoulder blade. This occurs during repetitive overhead arm and shoulder motions. Without proper treatment, shoulder inflammation could continue to worsen into a more serious injury
- Rotator Cuff injuries affect the ability to lift an individual’s arm and reach overhead. The rotator cuff itself involves the area of muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder joint together. Some serious rotator cuff injuries can lead to decreased shoulder function, even following recovery.
Lower Back Injuries
The second most common injuries were to the lower back area. The participants reported 422 total injuries to the lower back. Some of the common exercises associated with lower back injuries were squats, deadlifting, and overhead press movements. A few common lower back sports injuries include:
- Strains in the lower back occur when the surrounding muscles and ligaments are stretched too far. Too much weight, improper form, and weak core muscle can increase the risk of lower back strain. The resulting pain and spasms can range in severity depending on the size of the muscle tear.
- Herniated discs occur when the intervertebral discs stabilize the lower back tear or herniate. The resulting spinal canal narrowing can cause the spinal nerves to pinch. This injury is associated with pain, weakness, numbing, and tingling in the affected areas. Severe cases may even require spinal surgery to correct.
The third most common injury in relation to the study was hand and wrist injuries. These injuries affected a reported 273 individuals' hands and wrists. Delaying the diagnosis and treatment of the hand or wrist injuries can result in long-term issues:
- Sprains are the result of ligament damage. Ligaments are tissue that connects bone to bone. Commonly, sprains can range from minor to complete ruptures. The respective recovery time for each injury will depend on the grade of severity for each individual sprain.
- Bone injuries of the hand or wrist can involve anything from fingers, bones between wrist and knuckles, or scaphoid bones in the wrist. Fractures are cracks or breaks in the hand or wrist bone. Bone dislocations happen when the bone is forcefully pushed out of line with the joint. Scaphoid bone wrist fractures are not always obvious and can appear to show sprain symptoms at first.
Sports Injury Lawsuits
Depending on the context behind each injury, sports injury litigation can make sense on a case-to-case basis. This primarily relies on the defendant's ability to prove the negligence of another party. If an individual’s injuries are serious enough, an injury claim can help the rightful party recover fair compensation for medical bills and other expenses throughout the recovery process. Here are the four elements of proving negligence in an injury case summarized:
- Prove a duty of care that the responsible party owed the individual at the time of their injury. This can include property owners, team managers, personal trainers, or others potentially involved. For example, a gym owner owes the responsibility of keeping premises free from hazards that could cause serious injury.
- Prove the defendant omitted or breached their responsibilities. This could be anything from failing to repair old equipment or failing to maintain a hazard-free environment within a gym.
- Establish a connection. A legal team must be able to attribute the party’s injury to the defendant's breach/omission of care. Evidence must be able to prove proximate cause for the defendant to assume liability for their actions.
- Provide evidence of the damage caused. For fair compensation to be reimbursed, tangible damages must be able to be clearly outlined. However, this is not limited to fixed costs or medical bills, or physical therapy. Pain, suffering, emotional distress, and even future wage loss can all be accounted for in the injury claim process.
Avoid Common Sports Injuries During Functional Training
Injuries suck. As always prevention is much more effective than rehabilitation. And it’s also more fun. Some sports are more prone to get injured than others. High-intensity training or sports with a lot of equipment may increase the risk. In CrossFit especially we saw that shoulder, lower back, hands, and wrists are particularly at risk. Keep that in mind and reserve time for good recovery -- your body will thank you for it.
Take good care of your body, it’s the only one you have.
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