There's a common misconception that lifting weights will lead to ruined joints, but research shows the opposite is true. Numerous studies have demonstrated that weightlifting and strength training help strengthen your joints as well as your muscles and bones. The long-term effects of weightlifting can provide you with decreased pain, even if you have arthritis. While some soreness is typical, the overall impact of weightlifting is positive, as long as you incorporate the proper methods, which will help you get the most out of the exercise.
Why Do My Joints Hurt When I Lift?
A common question many people have is, "Can weightlifting cause arthritis?" The good news is that it does not. A follow-up question then might be, "Why do my joints hurt when I work out?" The answer to that question is a little more complicated, since there are several reasons you might have sore joints immediately following a workout.
The two most common are that you're lifting more than your body can handle or you're lifting using incorrect form.
Too Much Weight
When you're exercising, it's vital to listen to what your body is saying. Pain is a way for your body to alert you to the fact that something's not right. If you experience joint pain after a workout, double-check the amount you're lifting, because it may be too much for you. You may feel tempted to show off how much you can lift, but if you take on more than your body can handle, you'll be putting excessive pressure on your muscles and joints, causing them to hurt after. You can even end up pulling or tearing muscles as a result.
The more complex your lifting methods, the higher the chances of injury when you take on too much. For example, lifting heavy weight over your head can cause you to lose your balance and experience a severe injury.
Like most exercises, lifting weights requires your body to stand in the correct form to minimize the risk of injury. Even a slight shift in balance or positioning can lead to undue stress on your joints. If you're only beginning strength training, it's a good idea to work with a professional who will show you the correct form for your body. Because everyone is different, sometimes a minor change in your position can be beneficial. But finding the line between the correct and incorrect form can lead to joint pain or even hospitalization with a more severe injury.
How Do I Avoid Joint Injuries When Lifting?
As mentioned, lifting weights the wrong way will lead to sore joints after a workout. Luckily, there are some do's and don'ts to follow to ensure you get the most out of your workout without risking the injury.
- Do stretch beforehand: Warming up is a great way to get your body loosened up and allow for a broader range of motion for your joints. Start by moving around, marching in place and swinging your arms and legs to raise your core body temperature. Once your muscles are warm, stretching helps reduce the risk of swelling.
- Don't overdo it: When you feel yourself getting tired after strength training, it's a good idea to take that as a signal that your body has had enough. Pushing yourself harder only increases the likelihood of joint injury. That means stopping even if you haven't finished your workout — don't risk an overload injury by overdoing it.
- Do rest as needed: Your body needs rest, especially after working out. Avoid strenuously exercising the same areas two days in a row. Instead, switch it up every day or opt for full-body training two or three times a week, so your body has enough time to recharge between workouts.
- Don't rush it: When lifting weights, it can be tempting to quickly work through your set in hopes of getting more reps in. However, that not only ends up putting unnecessary pressure on your joints, but also increases the risk of injury, since you're not allowing yourself time to notice how your body is moving. Pay attention to how you're lifting by doing it in slow, controlled moves, which is also a great way to spot any inaccuracies in your form.
- Do listen to your body: Like when you feel yourself tiring, listen to your body when something starts to hurt or doesn't feel right. Don't power through the pain, because it could end up making the injury worse, sidelining you with recovery time. Trust your body when it tells you something's not right and work to fix it.
- Don't binge eat: Many people mistakenly believe they can eat whatever they want if they exercise enough, but your diet directly relates to the health of your joints and muscles. Strength training puts your joints at a higher risk of inflammation, and eating the wrong types of food can only increase that risk further. Instead, opt for healthy foods, which will help reduce the risk of inflammation of the joints.
Unfortunately, injuries are common when it comes to athletics, with approximately 8.6 million people reporting some injuries resulting from sports. With weightlifting specifically, the spine, shoulder and knees are the three most common parts that get injured.
Common Joint Injuries
Due to what weightlifting requires, it's no surprise that the shoulders, knees and spine are the three most vulnerable parts of the body. They're the areas of the body that see the most pressure, with the spine opening up the potential for injury to the lower back and hips as well.
Shoulder injuries are the most common joint injury resulting from strength training, with shoulder dysfunction likely to be the cause of most of the injuries. Shoulder dysfunction occurs when the scapula and the arm move in an uncoordinated way, forcing unnecessary strain on the shoulder itself. Regardless of what type of injury it is, shoulder injuries are hard to ignore, sending sharp pinching pain at the front or back of the shoulders. The injury can also manifest through the deltoids — the muscle that curves around the shoulder. You're most likely to feel the pain of a shoulder injury when reaching your arms up, either for exercise or grab something off a high shelf.
The good news is you can easily prevent shoulder injuries by warming up properly. A thorough warmup before strenuous physical activity will reduce the chances of injury by preparing your body for exercise. If you feel shoulder pain despite warming up properly, talk to a professional to see if there may be something wrong with your form.
Knee injuries are another common result of weightlifting, which is unsurprising considering the strain we put on our knees even with day-to-day activities, like walking or running. While all our joints feel pressure regularly, our knees experience it more than others because they're so essential in our lives. However, that doesn't mean weightlifting and knee pain have to go hand in hand. While tight muscles or torn tendons are a common cause of knee pain, incorrect form can also lead to pain in the joint — either because of a tear or pull, or because of undue pressure on the joint.
Like with shoulder pain, warming up ahead of lifting weights will go a long way to reduce the likelihood of a joint injury. Also like shoulder pain, your overall form can make a significant difference, so you have to make sure you maintain the appropriate balance of strength and coordination between the muscles of the front and back of the leg. For knees, in particular, post-workout care, such as massages and gently rolling the knee, also help keep the tissue healthy and reduce the chances of an injury.
What Are the Benefits of Weightlifting for My Joints?
With all this talk of joint pain from lifting, you'll be happy to hear that there are many benefits of lifting weight for your joints. There are even benefits to weightlifting if you already live with arthritis. Though it won't cure arthritis, weightlifting can help alleviate your pain and discomfort.
Reduce Joint Pain
Contrary to popular belief, regularly lifting weights will not cause the pain itself — or cause arthritis, as we mentioned. Instead, one of the primary benefits of lifting weights is a reduction in joint pain. Indeed, studies show those who live with arthritis and lift weights experience less pain than those who do not. With regular weightlifting, the movement of the strengthening exercises helps loosen stiff, achy joints. And it's not only people with arthritis who benefit from it — people who live with other conditions that result in inflamed joints can find the same relief with strength training, allowing them to feel more relaxed and less stiff.
Strength training is also a great way to prevent pain. Because it strengthens the muscles and joints, it allows them to remain more flexible and maintain a wider range of motion, which helps reduce the likelihood that you'll experience joint pain later.
The muscles surrounding the joints also play a part in reducing joint pain. Weightlifting directly targets those muscles, strengthening them and helping them function at their full capacity. When those muscles work as they should, they can carry the burden of pressure, leaving your joints without any undue strain.
When you do regular strength training, you'll find any joint pain slowly decreases as your muscles get stronger.
Improve Mental Health
Any exercise will create endorphins in your body, which inevitably boost your mood. When you're feeling happier and more motivated, you're more likely to keep moving around — and movement is one of the best ways to keep your joints healthy and pain-free.
In a similar vein, the boost in mood also doubles as an antidote to the potential depression or feelings of loss that can accompany arthritis or other joint conditions.
Decrease Body Weight
While weight loss shouldn't be the only goal of the exercise, it is one of the results of weightlifting. Sometimes an excess of weight becomes a burden on the joints, leading to pain. Weight loss resulting from weightlifting lessens the strain on the joints, leading to less pain. That is especially pertinent to knee pain, since your knees support every pound of extra weight your body carries.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Weightlifting for My Joints?
Weightlifting and joint pain often go hand in hand because of the misconception that exercise causes discomfort. We now understand that the opposite is true, and that weightlifting can help alleviate and even prevent joint pain, even for those who live with debilitating conditions like arthritis.
Consistent strength training will inevitably build and strengthen your muscles, including those surrounding your joints. By strengthening these muscles, you're allowing yourself to become stronger overall. That strength is a boon for your body, since it will help prevent your joints from deteriorating, allowing them to be pain-free and fully functional for longer. Contrary to popular belief, regular use of your joints will end up making them healthier and more functional for longer than not using them will.
However, it's crucial to remember that these positive effects are only possible when you practice weightlifting correctly to avoid injury. Because the body has so many different moving parts, they need to work together in the right combination for you to reap the benefits of the exercise you're doing. And understanding your body and its unique differences is just as essential.
Many people think symmetry is the secret to successful weightlifting, but that's not necessarily the case, because not all bodies are the same. Most people have a dominant side or hand, so whatever weightlifting workout you develop for yourself must take these things into account.
When performed correctly and regularly, weightlifting provides long-term pain relief and overall strength.
Get Relief From Joint Pain in the Heart of Houston
Sometimes, no matter how much you try to avoid it, joint pain can make your life difficult. Instead of living with the discomfort or even spending weeks recuperating, get in touch with Dr. Muffadal Gombera, a trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in injuries to the shoulders, hips and knees. Using the latest advanced treatments, Dr. Gombera provides expert care to all patients, often preventing the need for surgery altogether. Instead, Dr. Gombera's goal is to find minimally invasive treatments for joint pain and injuries to get every patient back on their feet sooner.
Located in the heart of Houston, Dr. Gombera welcomes patients to his practice at Fondren Orthopedic Group and Texas Orthopedic Hospital. If you're suffering from a joint injury, schedule an appointment with Dr. Gombera by calling 713-794-3457 or request an appointment online by filling out the form.