How to make sure that New Year’s Gym Resolution doesn’t turn into a New Year’s Back Injury

By:  Jaime Villarreal, MD
DHR Health Orthopedic Institute

As a physician who specializes in the musculoskeletal system and is fellowship trained in spine, I’ve seen many injuries in my practice and can help you avoid them.  Prevention of lower back injuries at the gym is possible with a thoughtful and measured approach to your healthy living lifestyle.

Most patients learn their gym workout routine in high school, a time where there is often competitive training and where the body is healthy and can more readily resist injury. To prevent injury in adulthood it is important to differentiate between your old high school work outs and your current physical fitness routine. Set gym goals that are non-competitive, less prone to injury, and focus more on maintenance and healthy living. For the average patient, who is not a professional athlete, I recommend a combination of aerobic and low weight training exercises centered on calorie burning.

I set the following general rules for my patients:

Be patient. Set attainable goals for your weight and diet, but give yourself time and forgive yourself if you have set backs.

Warm up is key. Studies on athletic injury have found that the length of your warm up can reduce the risk of injury.

Space out your workout over time. If your goal is to cycle one mile, it’s ok to take breaks and divide the trip into two or three segments. It will take more time, but the calorie burning remains the same and there will be a reduced risk of injury. This will keep you working out more in the long run.

Avoid “maxing out” on weights.  There is no benefit to lifting heavier weight through a small number of repetitions, there is only increased risk for injury.

When lifting weights keep the range of motion of your joints within normal physiologic ranges.  Do not strain your muscles at the end of their range of motion. This places force on the musculotendinous junction (where muscle meets the tendon), the area most prone to injury in muscles.

Protect your lower back. Don’t place excessive weights on your lumbar discs and risk herniation. Instead of squats, dead lifts, power cleans, or lunges, try seated leg presses and hip extensions to work out your glutes.

Only lift weights that you can take through a minimum of 15 to 20 repetitions. This will maximize calorie burning and reduce the risk of injury to your joints, muscles, and tendons.

The greater part of your workouts should be aerobic exercises. The elliptical, swimming, and cycling (either stationary or free riding on flat surfaces), are excellent alternatives to running or jogging on pavement and using a treadmill, which can create harmful downward pressures on the lumbar discs.

With fitness injuries occurring often, it is important to speak to your physician to help you navigate the next steps for your injury.

If you would like more information on lower back injuries or to speak to one of our experts, please call DHR Health Orthopedic Institute at (956) 362- 6683.