Written by Brent Corum, PT, DPT. Progressive Rehabilitation Associates at Mercy Plaza.
When you think about strength training, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
For most, thoughts may simply include lifting weights to get big and strong. For others it may be lifting weights in an attempt to “tone up” so they can fit into those new jeans or look better in that new bathing suit. But what most don’t realize is that strength training is more than this. It can be a powerful tool for injury prevention.
Strength training is not merely just picking things up and putting them down, but can be done with true purpose for reducing injury incidence. This includes not only competitive and recreational athletes, but the general population as a whole; active and inactive. As physical therapists, we find that far too many individuals have underlying tissue imbalances and tissue weaknesses, most of which go unnoticed. These tissues include ligaments, tendons, cartilage, bones, and primarily muscles themselves. Without knowledge of these imbalances, one may be unaware of the implications it can have on the movement, structure, and functions of the body. Together these peculiar differences create the potential for abnormal body mechanics and positioning. Which in turn, may lead to injury.
There are a large number of common injuries that people sustain which can be prevented early by specific strength exercises, or in other words, “prehabilitation” via strength training. In general, frequent injuries related to muscle/tissue weaknesses and imbalances may include the following: low back pain due to core weakness, or neck/upper back pain due to weakness of postural muscle groups. Or, if you’re an active individual, some of the common injuries related to muscle and other tissue impairments include: knee or kneecap pain when walking/jogging/running or squatting/performing stair steps, shoulder pain when trying to lift objects overhead or pressing/reaching out from the chest, and low back pain with golfing, gardening, or performing house chores. These are just some of the common injuries in daily life, recreation, or sport that may be tied to muscle or other tissue deficiencies.
How does strength training benefit the reduction of injury incidence?
Strength training helps to improve the capacity of various muscles and tissues to work under stress. Physiologically, this form of activity increases the durability and toughness of your tendons and ligaments, which attach muscle to bone and bone to bone respectively. It can help to improve the loading capacity and shock absorption that occurs in joint cartilage. It has also been shown to increase bone mineral density. And as you would expect, strength training will benefit the working capacity of your muscles, allowing you to do more work with less fatigue or physical stress. All in all, these mechanisms will make your body much better suited to tolerate and perform daily/recreational tasks with decreased chance of injury.
Strength training does not necessarily require a gym with heavy dumbbells, barbells, or machines to reap the benefits. Sure, that equipment may help, but strength training can be done at home in your own comfort. Benefits can be achieved with exercises utilizing your bodyweight, resistive bands, therapy balls, light weights, or even furniture or stairs in the house. If you are concerned about an injury you had or think you may have increased risk of, or you are thinking about being more active and have questions about exercises you should do, a visit to a physical therapist may be beneficial.
Feel free to contact one of Progressive Rehabilitation Associate’s offices to set up an evaluation to discuss this and identify possible areas for self-improvement.