Despite its benefits of fat burning, muscle building, and strength boosting, CrossFit has developed a reputation for injury. The problem? Overusing certain muscles.
One study found that out of 252 subjects, a bit more than half were injured at some point during one year of CrossFit training. Researchers cited overuse as the primary issue that led to injury in the shoulder, knee, and lower back. (1)
You can significantly reduce your risk of overusing a muscle by practicing a few simple steps before, during, and after each CrossFit workout. Let’s review the most common CrossFit injuries from least serious to most serious, and how to prevent them.
1. WRIST STRAIN
Used in many snap-focused movements such as the clean and press, the wrist is an important yet fragile joint that makes all CrossFit workouts possible.
You can also wear wrist wraps to protect yourself from injury.
2. TENNIS ELBOW
Did you know that you can get tennis elbow from weightlifting? When you overuse the connective tissue that runs from the elbow to your wrist, you run the risk of inflaming the surrounding tendons and causing tennis elbow.
Stretching is essential to prevent tennis elbow. After your workout, be sure to ice both elbows to alleviate any inflammation.
3. ACHILLES TENDONITIS
There is a large tendon that can be found on the back of your ankle, and when this is overused during jumping and sprinting exercises, you can develop Achilles tendonitis. What starts as inflammation will progress to pain, restricting your ability to walk.
You can prevent Achilles tendonitis by wearing proper footwear, stretching the ankle, and going to at least one reflexology session per month.
If you experience pain in the bottom of the foot post-workout, this could be plantar fasciitis.
4. PULLING YOUR LOWER BACK
In all types of weightlifting, the lower back is the number one spot for a strain or pull. Lifting too much weight with bad form can increase your risk for serious lower back pain.
Before every workout, you must stretch but not just the lower back; focus on the surrounding muscles: upper back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. Always ask a coach to check your form during deadlifts or any complicated movement with potential for injury.
Use our deadlifting checklist to help perfect your form.
5. ILIOTIBIAL BAND SYNDROME
If you have pain on the outside of your thigh, particularly near the knee, then you may have IT band syndrome. Overperforming lower body exercises especially those that require a lot of bending at the knee can cause inflammation in the tendon that runs from your hip to your knee.
Dedicating yourself to a 10-minute stretching session that focuses on the hip adductors and hip abductors can help to prevent this. You should also focus on strengthening these same muscles with exercises such as clams and standing side leg raise.
6. PATELLAR TENDONITIS
Just below the knee is where many high-impact movements such as box jump take their toll. If you are experiencing knee pain, especially if it’s beneath the knee, you may have patellar tendonitis.
The best way to prevent patellar tendonitis is to stretch the entire lower body before and after a workout. Most importantly, focus on strengthening the tibialis anterior. Place your foot in the middle of a resistance band and slowly flex and release.
7. SHOULDER ROTATOR CUFF TEAR
The rotator cuff in your shoulder plays a critical role in all arm, chest, and back exercises. Unfortunately, given its nature of being a ball-and-socket joint, during CrossFit workouts you’re at a higher risk for shoulder injury outside of the normal wear and tear.
Strengthening the muscles that support the rotator cuff is the best method of prevention. Target all deltoids with light weight and high repetitions. Stretch and ice after every workout.
Straining during exercise can cause abdominal stress and the result is a piece of your intestine that pops through the abdominal wall. Deadlifts and squats are exercises commonly associated with hernias.
The best way to prevent a hernia is to strengthen your entire core: abdominals, obliques, and lower back. Also, avoid lifting too much weight with bad form.
While it’s not a cure-all, a weightlifting belt can provide a firm surface for your abdominal wall to safely push on during movements such as the squat or deadlift.
9. HERNIATED DISC
All along your spine, you’ll find jelly doughnut-like discs that protect each vertebra. Overuse or excessive weight loads can put too much pressure on these discs, resulting in the insides coming out and putting pressures against spinal nerves.
Avoiding ego-driven lifts with too much weight and not enough experience is the best method of prevention. Go light then work your way up as you master the exercise. We recommend working with a trainer for at least a month to perfect your form and technique with high-risk CrossFit gym exercises.
10. NECK INJURY
Since CrossFit is based on many Olympic-style movements, you’re going to be spending a lot of time pushing a barbell above your head or supporting a barbell across your traps. Excessive weight loads or dropping a barbell on your neck can cause a cervical spine injury that results in extreme pain and even paralysis.
Use a power rack during overhead exercises. When you don’t have support, go light with the weight and perfect your form before increasing the load. If you’re performing a squat, use a squat pad to cushion your neck.
- Mehrab M, de Vos RJ, Kraan GA, Mathijssen NMC. Injury Incidence and Patterns Among Dutch CrossFit Athletes. Orthop J Sports Med. 2017;5(12):2325967117745263. Published 2017 Dec 18. doi:10.1177/2325967117745263.