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Any physical activity carries with it some risk of injury. It’s unavoidable, but that doesn’t stop us. We educate ourselves, and act accordingly.
There are many who believe CrossFit carries a disproportionate amount of risk (a debate for another day). Yes, injuries happen. Some studies put the injury rate at 20%, and others at closer to 75%. As is usually the case, the truth lies somewhere in between (and on par with activities like gymnastics, powerlifting, and more general fitness workouts). What is consistent across these studies, though, is the correlation between injury rates and proper instruction: the rate decreases with consistent and quality trainer guidance.
The best advice for avoiding injury in CrossFit? Join a certified box, and utilize the services of a knowledgeable trainer…at least in the early stages. Good form is crucial, and that’s very hard to teach yourself.
Good Advice for All
No matter your experience or skill level, there are a few things you can do to seriously reduce your risk of injury.
Warm up and stretch. Always. Full stop.
Some light cardio, followed by some gentle stretches (ideally that mimic frequent CrossFit movement) will get you primed for the intensity and demands of your WOD.
Beyond that, don’t rush in and attempt too much, too quickly. Slow down and scale back. Too many athletes get into their first box, and in an effort to fully embrace the lifestyle, try and do too much. They immediately want to compete and feel like an accepted member of the CrossFit community. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, trust that it will come. Go at your own speed. Trust your trainer. And don’t go full-throttle every day, all day. CrossFit officially endorses a three days on, one day off approach to give your body time to rest and repair itself.
Despite your best efforts, though, you’ll likely experience some sort of injury at some point. Most are minor and easily remedied.
Four Common CrossFit Injuries
Injury 1 – Lumbar/Lower Back
Hands down, this is the most common injury to CrossFit athletes. So many of the activities put strain on this area, and injuries are frequent, but typically minor (tweaks, strains, and the ilk). They’re best avoided by staying within your “weight class” so to speak. Don’t push yourself beyond your abilities for the sake of hitting the leaderboard. Strengthen the area over time, and develop your core to better support yourself. A lower back injury will generally require some rest or scaling back, and possibly anti-inflammatory medication, depending on the severity. Many CrossFitters swear by a foam roller to help recovery (and most include it in their warm-up and stretch period).
Injury 2 – Shoulders and Rotator Cuff
A close second, shoulder and rotator cuff injuries are commonplace on account of push ups and overhead presses/actions. An injury here could potentially take weeks or even months (consider the demands on your shoulder during your regular day-to-day activities) to heal, requiring rest, ice packs, anti-inflammatories, and perhaps something a bit off the beaten track like acupuncture. To avoid them altogether, include some strength conditioning of the area, avoid heavy weight sets until you’ve mastered the form, and focus on maintaining both flexibility and stability.
Injury 3 – Knees
Squats. Lunges. Box jumps. Jump rope. CrossFit can be hard – very hard – on your knees. Proper form and support is key in avoiding knee injuries, as many are a result of the pelvis and/or weak glutes contributing to poor support and alignment. Strengthen and condition your glutes with an exercise like a single leg sit-back squat. You can avoid more serious knee injuries like meniscus and ALC tears by ensuring proper technique and form (once again, using a trainer is recommended), and a slow but gradual progression in both intensity and weight.
Injury 4 – Achilles Tendonitis
The Achilles tendon – the largest in your body – is used when you walk, run, and jump…so pretty much all the time. An injury like tendonitis is common as a result. CrossFitters can experience Achilles tendonitis via overuse, pushing too hard, and box jumps that are too high or intense. Rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories are the usual treatment, as well as conditioning and strengthening the calf muscles.
Notice a trend here? Many (if not most) CrossFit injuries are the result of either poor form and/or going too hard, too frequently, too soon. Slow it down and do it right.
Over your CrossFit existence, injuries will happen (as they do in any physical activity). Educate yourself, take the necessary precautions, and aim for a steady but gradual increase in weight and intensity to ensure they’re minor and quick to repair. And if you do find yourself in any pain or discomfort, pay attention to your body. Any injury has the potential to be serious, so never assume it’s no big deal. If it persists, see a doctor immediately.