How to Prevent – and Heal – Common CrossFit Injuries

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The CrossFit appeal

Dr. Jason Dapore was a walking – and sometimes running – reflection of the hottest fitness trends. For years, the osteopathic sports medicine physician in Columbus, Ohio, rotated through P90X, boot camps and distance racing all in the name of better understanding his patients. Then, in 2013, he tried CrossFit – and has barely tried anything else since. “I personally kind of fell in love with it,” due to its variety, intensity and sense of community, Dapore says. He’s in good company: Since its founding in 2000, CrossFit reports its programming is now offered at more than 13,000 locations worldwide. But with a new crop of athletes comes new risks for injury. Can they be prevented – and treated?

Finding a ‘box’

Since CrossFit – essentially a mix between high-intensity interval training, strength training and gymnastics – isn’t offered at a chain of gyms but rather at their bare-boned, square-shaped facilities dubbed “boxes,” the workouts and atmospheres vary drastically. “That’s one of the challenging things and also makes CrossFit fun – every gym very much has its own personality,” Dapore says. Finding the best fit for you is your first step in preventing injury. Pick a nearby location, look up its recent workouts online, talk to the owner about the gym’s philosophy and onboarding process, and – if all sounds good – try it for a few weeks, Dapore suggests. “Follow your gut and give it a chance,” he says.

Take it slow.

Most CrossFit (and other exercise-related) injuries are preventable with a proper warmup and buildup in time, weight and intensity. “You wouldn’t take advanced trigonometry before taking basic algebra,” says Sean Kuechenmeister, a certified athletic trainer at the New York Sports Science Lab in Staten Island. Similarly, you shouldn’t be doing handstand pushups if you can’t do pushups on your knees, and you shouldn’t be doing weighted pullups if your shoulders are too tight to lift your arms overhead. While a good coach will scale movements to your level, you’re in charge of your ego, Kuechenmeister says. Maybe you won’t finish the workout, he adds, “but … what’s one bad workout versus missing four to six months for surgery?”

Ouch!

CrossFit workouts usually either require you to do as many reps in a certain time as you can or do a certain number of movements every minute. That time crunch can impair coordination and lead to injuries. Plus, CrossFitters tend to be competitive and may push themselves too far. “CrossFit itself tends to be multi-activity, multi-movement and multi-discipline, so it is a fairly balanced sport. But while the box or gym may encourage rest and balance, the practitioners may not follow,” says Beret Kirkeby, owner of Body Mechanics in New York City, which offers CrossFit-specific massages. Here are some of the most common issues she and others see – and how to heal them:\

Shoulder issues

Beat up your shoulder at CrossFit? Chances are, you’ve been sitting at a desk most days for more than a decade and don’t do a lot range-of-motion exercises to keep that joint limber, Dapore finds. First, tell your coach, who should guide you through some “regression” exercises and modifications so you don’t make it worse, Kuechenmeister says. At home, try self-care techniques like foam rolling, band-assisted mobilization exercises, ice and rest. If you’re not getting better after a few days, Kuechenmeister advises seeking out a professional like an athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach, sports medicine doc or physical therapist who specializes in sports-related injuries.

Back pain

Back pain is also a common result of going from a sedentary, seated position most hours of most days to swinging from pullup bars and deadlifting your body weight. “So long as [the pain]is not severe … rest and gentle, more diverse movement is recommended for most injuries,” Kirkeby says. For example, try swimming, yoga, massage therapy or acupuncture. If the pain is “alarming,” though – maybe it’s accompanied by tingling or a headache, or is a new-to-you feeling – seek professional help, Kirkeby advises. You also shouldn’t push through any pain during a workout that’s sharp, worsening or changes the way you perform, Dapore says.

Knee problems

Any exercise program that has you squatting – and particularly squatting while bearing serious weight – can put your knees at risk. Again, this is especially the case for folks who are sitting most of the day and don’t warm up their hips and glutes properly, or squat more than their mobility allows, Kuechenmeister says. After the fact, the steps are similar for most moderate injuries: Tell your coach, practice at-home therapies, rest and see a professional if pain persists. No matter the protocol – be it a few physical therapy sessions or six months sans squats – CrossFit is varied and modifiable enough, Dapore says, that you likely won’t need to quit entirely.

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