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Don't Let the Barbells Beat You

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Aman Shah, MD

July 24, 2000 -- Reducing injury weighs heavily on the minds of researchers at the University of Arkansas. In the last 20 years, weight-training injuries have risen by more than a third, according to a report in the July issue of The Physician and Sports Medicine. But athletic trainers say most of these injuries can be prevented with some simple safety tips.

"Our study showed that one in four weight-training injuries is due to misuse of equipment," says lead author Chester Jones, PhD, an associate professor of health sciences at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "So in particular, teen-age boys, women, and older adults should learn how to use home gym equipment safely," he tells WebMD.

Given the benefits of weight training, its growing popularity isn't surprising. "Lifting has always been popular with teen-age boys for sports performance and body sculpting," says Paul Cacolice, ATC, CSCS, a certified athletic trainer and strength coach in Enfield, Conn. "But recently, women have caught on as a way to manage stress, correct posture, and offset osteoporosis. Even older adults have gotten into the act to improve balance, reduce frailty, and prevent falls," he adds.

To avoid injury, trainers say start with the basics:

  • Read the directions. "It may sound simple, but one of the best ways to reduce injury is to read the directions before using any new equipment," Cacolice tells WebMD. "You've got to know what you're doing, not just with the equipment, but with your technique," he explains. According to Cacolice, the importance of good technique can't be overemphasized.
  • Talk to your trainer. "Depending on your fitness level and personal objectives, weight-training exercises can be done in lots of different ways. So touch base with a professional about a home routine that's right for you, Cacolice urges. "And before moving on to the next level, check back for some more pointers."
  • Focus on safety. "It's also a good idea to train with a partner, to ensure your safety, and to childproof your home gym when not in use," he adds.

To determine who's at risk for weight-training injuries, Jones and colleagues reviewed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) between 1978 and 1998. The NEISS, with data from more than 100 U.S. hospital emergency departments, estimates the incidence of product-related injuries nationwide.

Over the 20-year period, the NEISS documented more than 20,000 weight-training injuries. It estimates that nearly a million weight-training injuries occurred in the U.S. over that period. Of the documented injuries, 80% involved males, mostly aged of 15 and 24. Surprisingly, injuries among women and older men accounted for the largest increase since 1978. Occurring most often with free weights at home, soft-tissue hand injuries -- such as bruises, scrapes, sprains, strains, and crushes -- were the most common reason for treatment.

But some weight-training injuries actually resulted in death. Most of the fatalities involved head trauma, suffocation, or strangulation, and were attributed to equipment misuse or working out alone. Similarly, children under the age of 6 were frequently injured while playing with home equipment. In fact, children were six times more likely to be injured than teen-age boys were.

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