Feel like you've got a chronic injury? Read on!
Chronic injuries suck.
You know, your lower back hurting a little bit here and there on leg day, or your shoulder coming back to remind you that it's injured every time you work up to a heavy bench press.
Chronic injuries are the injuries that linger on your body for a long time, appearing back every so often and never really properly recovering.
If you've been working out in any way for at least a year or two, then there's a good chance you've been injured before.
And if you're unlucky, you might already have a chronic injury that's going to impact your ability to train in the future.
If you're wanting to expand your fitness knowledge and learn more about chronic injuries in the gym, you're in the right place.
In this article I'm going to break down some common causes of chronic pain, explain some common misconceptions about chronic pain and help you understand what you really should be doing to help recover and move forwards.
Ready to get into it?
What Causes Chronic Injuries in the Gym?
Chronic injuries occur when you overuse your body, and cause too much wear and tear over time.
It can come in many different forms, including "fibromyalgia, low back pain, intermittent claudication, dysmenorrhea, mechanical neck disorder, spinal cord injury" and more (see study here).
This is why you’ll see some serious athletes who train almost, if not every day having some chronic injuries in their joints and muscles.
However contrary to what most people believe, chronic injuries actually aren’t a definite sign of bad lifting technique in the gym or bad form.
Instead, it’s much, much more complicated than that.
There are many, many factors that could come into play when determining the causes of your chronic injuries.
In the following sections we'll break down the most common causes of your chronic pain.
Now, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the most likely and primary cause of your chronic pain is going to be overusing your muscles and tendons.
If you're in the gym training 6 days a week, going hard out every single session and not taking your recovery (stretching, foam rolling, sleep and nutrition) seriously enough, this could prove to be too much for your body to handle.
Even if you're just in the gym training 4-5 days a week, but you have a job that's physically demanding (such as working in a stockroom or warehouse), even that can contribute to chronic pain or injury development over time.
Normally, the job alone would be fine and manageable in terms of the injuries you develop.
However, if you pair it with intense weight training or weight bearing exercises (even things like running or rowing), this can quickly become too much for your body to handle and lead to injuries over time.
This is why you'll see so many athletes having some sort of lingering pain.
Many serious athletes train more than once a day, and it's not uncommon for some people to reach 8-10 trainings a week.
Without dedicated recovery, this would likely be far too much for most people.
For example, when I was in high school I rowed competitively for my school for two seasons.
In my second season (when I started to take it more seriously), it wasn't uncommon for me to train once in the morning before school, and then head to the gym to lift weights in the afternoon at pretty high intensities.
At one point, I was doing 8 or 9 trainings a week.
This quickly became very difficult to sustain, and I ended up developing lingering pain (thankfully not too much) in my back and knees.
If you're currently experiencing some chronic pain, the best thing you can do is try to reduce the amount you're using your body.
Whether this means heading into the gym less often, moving to another department at work or simply reducing the intensities that you train and work at.
Maybe this means you ask others to help you with lifting and carrying things more often at work.
Maybe this means you leave more reps in the tank when you do your weight training. You'll still be able to see results, but it's not going to be as taxing and will hopefully feel a little more sustainable.
Bad Form or Technique
Another potential cause for your chronic pain would be lifting with bad form or technique.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, but lifting with improper form or technique can lead to you placing excessive amounts of stress on your muscles and joints.
For example, if you were to squat incorrectly and leaned forwards a little bit too much, you would risk placing far too much stress on your lower back by placing it in a very mechanically disadvantageous position, under heavy loads.
Doing this repetitively over and over again could lead to you developing chronic injuries and pain in your low back area.
Always make sure that you've got the basic form of an exercise nailed before attempting to lift any load that's going to place a challenge on your body.
Too Much Stress and Fatigue
Another common cause for chronic injuries could be stress levels that are too high, or constant states of fatigue without ever getting a break.
If you're the type of person that's always jumping from task to task, and never really having any time to relax or chill out, you may find that reducing your overall workload throughout the week is going to go a long way in reducing your chronic injuries.
Again, this might mean getting in the gym less often or finding ways to reduce the amount of work you're doing in your day to day life.
Too much stress or fatigue can lead to a reduced training performance, and increased chances of you hurting yourself over time if you're constantly trying to lift heavy or train intensely while in a tired or exhausted state.
Common Misconceptions Around Chronic Pain
In this section we're going to break down some of the most common misconceptions around chronic pain.
These will likely be things that we've always thought or believed.
Being Afraid of Movement
One of the main effects that the development of chronic pain has on trainees s the fact that many of them become scared of movement, in fear that they're going to develop further injuries due to having an already-injured muscle or tendon.
However, this fear of movement can lead to more pain signals being sent to the brain, and surprisingly an increase in your body's ability to detect pain and experience it.
This can e backed by the study by Dennis C. Turk, which stated: "A systematic review of the literature on psychological risk factors in back and neck pain indicated evidence for a significant association between fear-avoidance beliefs and increased pain and disability".
Essentially, being afraid of pain and afraid of movement can lead to a heightened ability to experience pain!
This is going to further impact your ability to train, as you're going to feel more and more pain, even at shorter ranges of motion with lighter loads.
Don't be afraid of movement.
Instead, keep moving as much as you can, even if you're experiencing a tiny bit of pain.
If it's nothing too serious, and you feel that you can manage it, keep on moving.
Go for bike rides, jogs/walks, and keep yourself active.
It's Better to Push Through the Pain
I don't care how tough you think you are, or how strong you think your mindset is.
It's never a good idea for you to simply try to push through your pain and keep on training intensely if it's severe.
Doing this is only going to make you feel extremely uncomfortable, as well as lead to you potentially making your injuries worse and further impacting your everyday life.
Push through it if it genuinely feels manageable, but do not try to be the hero if it really hurts for you to keep on moving.
Sometimes, it's better to take a step back to take 5 steps forwards.
Pain Naturally Comes with Age
This is a BIG misconception.
Many adults will start to assume that just because they're getting a little older, waking up everyday in chronic pain is normal and that it's nothing to worry about.
Chronic pain is not like hair turning grey.
It's not a natural effect of getting older.
No matter your age, you should never settle for being uncomfortable all the time and you should definitely go seek treatment or solutions.
So What Can We Do About Chronic Pain?
Fixing your chronic pain is going to be a slow process that requires lots of dedication and patience.
However, when you do eventually wake up one day and feel great again, it's going to be worth every step of the way.
We've mostly said everything about dealing with your chronic pain, so we'll just briefly summarize it all here.
Look for ways to reduce your weekly workload
Get more sleep (at least 7 hours a night)
Keep on exercising, but make sure it's at lighter intensities and feels manageable
Do NOT try to push through it
Improve your posture
Talk to your doctor
And there you have it!
The causes, misconceptions and treatment of your chronic pain.
I hope you've enjoyed reading through this article, and have been able to learn something from it!
If you've currently got chronic injuries, or you're worried that you have one, go consult your doctor. Your health always comes first.
All the best.