Fitness Articles

Protecting Your Joints During Exercise

7 Common Exercise Mistakes That Hurt Your Joints

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Exercise is good for your heart, helps with weight loss and provides a variety of health-related benefits. At the same time, exercise comes with a certain degree of injury risk, and depending on the activity, it can also put a lot of stress on your joints. But is that enough reason to opt out of exercise? Most experts would say no. The key is to exercise safely and choose activities and movements that reduce your risk of injury, pain or other complications.

So how do you protect your joints during exercise to make sure you're not doing more harm than good? By creating an exercise routine based on your individual needs and abilities, as well as taking some precautionary measures, you can reduce your risk of injury and make exercise an enjoyable part of your daily routine--not an added stressor.
 
Common Joint Injuries
Joint injuries occur for a variety of reasons, including improper training or technique, overuse, sudden directional changes and even falls. Of course, there are health conditions that affect the joints, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and degenerative disc disease (the spine is comprised of many joints), but this article will focus on preventable injuries, not these chronic conditions.
 
The most common injuries happen to joints that are subjected to repeated impact, which will vary depending on the activity. For example, injuries to runners and walkers typically affect the hip, knee and ankle joints, since the lower body absorbs most of the impact during these activities. Tennis players often have elbow joint problems from the repeated swing of the racquet. Weightlifters commonly experience shoulder joint problems, especially if they regularly perform upper body exercises using very heavy weight. And people who play high-speed contact sports (such as basketball or soccer) can often experience injuries like joint sprains, twists or tears due to the torque of a sudden directional change or fall. But you don't have to be a serious athlete to experience injury.
 
7 Common Mistakes that Lead to Joint Injury
Everyday exercisers and weekend warriors often suffer injury due to a few common mistakes that can be prevented with careful attention. Here's what to be aware of so you can move and exercise without joint pain or injury. 
  • Doing too much, too soon. When starting a new exercise program, motivation is typically high.  It's easy to get caught up and decide that while a 30-minute workout is good, a 2-hour workout is even better. Before you know it, you've got nagging knee pain and have to stop your workout routine completely. Joint pain and injury is common when you don't allow the body to adapt slowly to exercise. Remember it's not just your heart and lungs that need to slowly work up to harder or longer workouts; every system in your body needs time to adapt: your muscles, circulatory system, ligaments, cartilage and even your bones and joints. It's important to ease into exercise, regardless of how motivated you are to do more--even if it feels "OK" at the time. Start with lighter activity, shorter durations, and less frequent workouts (to allow for some recovery days) and then progress as you feel up to it--but no more than about 10% per week.
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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

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