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Common workout injuries and how to avoid them

Feeling the burn after starting a new workout routine?

A woman wearing a Hijab holding a weight while being instructed by a female personal trainer
A woman wearing a Hijab holding a weight while being instructed by a female personal trainer

Feeling the burn after starting a new workout routine? Mild to moderate workout injuries are a common occurrence and can happen to anyone – no matter your fitness level. We hit up personal trainer and wellness expert Kristy Curtis to walk us through the most common exercise injuries for people starting a new regimen.

Acute muscle soreness

What it is:

Acute muscle soreness is that burn you feel during – or shortly after – a fitness session. It shouldn’t last too long and generally calms down a couple of hours after you’ve finished.

How it usually occurs:

When you’re working out at a higher intensity than usual (e.g. huffing and puffing during exercise or exerting yourself more than normal), lactic acid is produced by your muscles and builds up, causing your muscles to feel sore and uncomfortable.

How to recover from it:

Acute muscle soreness is generally no big deal, however, Kristy stresses that with any gym injury listening to your body is crucial. Make sure you make time to cool down and stretch after exercising, drink plenty of water and rest and recover between gym sessions, she advises.

“For any localised pain that gets worse over time or increases with continued activity, always see a doctor.”

Delayed-onset muscle soreness

What it is:

Unlike with acute muscle soreness, you won’t feel delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) during your workouts but rather six to 12 hours afterwards.

How it usually occurs:

During high-intensity exercise, microscopic tears in your muscle fibres can increase inflammation levels in your body. This may lead to sore muscles even days after you’ve worked out.

How to recover from it:

DOMS rarely requires a trip to the doctor, but Kristy recommends taking it easy when dealing with any kind of post-workout ache.

“Regular rest days are crucial for muscle repair,” she says. “If you want to stay active on rest days, without contributing to further muscle soreness, you could try low-impact workouts like yoga and walking. These activities will help you stay active while letting your body recover.”

Related: 5 simple morning stretches for beginners

A smiling man with an amputated leg being pulled up off a block at the gym

Inflamed tendons (Tendonitis)

What it is:

Tendonitis is the inflammation or irritation of a tendon – the thick cord that attaches a bone to a muscle. Pain may gradually build up or be sudden and severe – usually after repetitive, minor impact on the affected area.

How it usually occurs:

Tendonitis can be brought on by a bunch of different physical activities, from gym injuries to tennis and even renovating the house. One of the biggest risk factors for getting tendonitis, however, is working out really hard but irregularly. An example might be going for a massive run when you haven’t in months or doing a pump class for the first time since, ever.

How to recover from it:

At-home care, including rest, ice packs and painkillers, can be effective. However, if your tendon pain doesn’t get better after a few days of rest, see a doctor. You may need more advanced treatments, such as steroid injections, physiotherapy or – in worst-case scenarios – surgery.

Related: What to expect from your first physiotherapy appointment

Knee injuries

What it is:

Ligament injuries in the knee – such as an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – are a result of damage to the tough bands of tissue that connect our bones and can be extremely painful.

How it usually occurs:

Knee ligament tears generally happen during sports or exercise that involve twisting, jumping, stopping suddenly or weight-bearing. Symptoms include swelling, pain, and not being able to put weight on the leg.

How to recover from it:

Self-care can reduce the pain – think RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation.
“Look out for symptoms that do not go away – even after rest, ice or pain medication,” says Kristy. The worst-case scenario for knee ligament tears? Surgery. But not before trying physiotherapy and rest time!

How to avoid exercise injuries

According to Kristy, there are seven easy-to-incorporate ways to decrease your likelihood of a fitness injury:

  1. 1

    Learn proper technique. “This will pay off in dividends with better results and gains.”

  2. 2

    Avoid overtraining. “The majority of injuries occur when we are tired and not concentrating on form.”

  3. 3

    Stretch and mobilise. “Take the time to warm up and cool down. A tight muscle is a weak muscle.”

  4. 4

    Take adequate time off between sessions. “Whether you’re a novice or seasoned athlete, regular rest is crucial.”

  5. 5

    Hydrate well. “Dehydration can lead to injuries and poor performance.”

  6. 6

    Eat protein. “Muscles are derived from protein, and not eating enough can inhibit strength and lead to injury.”

  7. 7

    Wear appropriate clothing. “Work boots in the gym are not conducive to working out!”

  8. 8

    Checking in with a doctor or fitness professional when trying something new is a great way to minimise exercise injury risk and boost your confidence levels.

Whether you’re new to exercise or training for a half marathon, check out The Check Up’s dedicated fitness section for more expert tips to help you achieve your goals.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

About Kristy Curtis

Kristy Curtis is one of Australia and Asia’s leading wellness experts. She discovered her passion for fitness at a young age and has since transformed that passion into a career, with a successful personal training business and as a TV presenter. Kristy strongly believes while there are some things in life you can’t control, you can take ownership and responsibility of your health through eating good food, thinking positively and keeping your body moving. Every night before bed, Kristy completes a sudoku puzzle.