Suffering from an exercise injury at any age can be difficult, but for those over 50, it can be especially detrimental. At this age, changes—such as loss of muscle elasticity, narrowed joint space, decreased bone density and circulation, and joint degeneration—lead to an increased risk of injury with a much longer recovery time, according to Mike Deibler, founder and owner of San Diego Premier Training in Carlsbad, California. To help you prevent any serious injuries, we identified the most common exercise injuries for those 50 and older—and how to avoid them.
This occurs as a result of inflammation of the plantar fascia—the thick band, or tissue, that runs across the bottom of your feet. “With this injury, you will feel a stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot that is usually worse in the morning when you first get up,” explains Deibler. “This is caused by the fact that the joints of the foot supply stability and act as a shock absorber when the foot hits the ground,” he adds.
To avoid plantar fasciitis, he recommends not overdoing workouts, especially when it comes to running. Additionally, always warm up and ease into your workouts with a progressive program.
This shoulder injury involves the four muscles that allow you to raise and lower your arm. So, as you can imagine, it’s quite debilitating. It most often occurs when muscles involved in stabilizing the shoulder (rotator cuff) aren’t doing their job, according to Deibler.
There are quite a few things that you can do to help reduce your risk. First, Deibler recommends making sure that you are training your shoulder in optimal alignment. “If you have poor shoulder posture, you must work on pulling the shoulder back into better alignment,” he says. “Once you have it in a better position you can now train to improve shoulder stability.” Also, try eliminating high-risk exercises. “Overhead pressing and pressing too often can lead to issues.”
This is one of the more common knee injuries. Those who play contact sports and those over the age of 50 tend to be most at risk, Deibler explains. “The meniscus is a bowl-shaped padding of connective tissue at the end of your femur that provides cushioning and shock absorption for the knee joint,” he says. “In younger people, a tear is often caused by a sharp twist or bend in the knee, but in older people, it is usually due to degeneration and weakening of this tissue.”
In order to help avoid meniscus tears, he recommends watching for deep knee flexion or bending. “Squatting can be a high-risk activity, especially under loading,” he says. “So keep the depth above parallel when loaded with weight, and maintain a more narrow stance to reduce compression forces.”
Lower Back Strain
According to Deibler, a lower back muscular strain is one of the bigger exercise-related injuries. “The spinal cord is a very important part of our anatomy,” he says. “If the body senses a threat to it, then it will shut you down, often first with a muscle spasm.”
In order to avoid lower back related injuries, learn to maintain a neutral spine, especially during movement and exercise. “Think if you went for a run with a flexed back for the entire time, how fatigued [those] muscles would get,” he says. “Eventually they will shut you down so [that] you can’t do any more harm to yourself. So, first find your neutral or sweet spot.” Perform a cat-cow stretch, like the pose done during a yoga class. This will help you figure out when your back tenses up or becomes stressed.
This injury occurs when the tendon connecting your kneecap to your shinbone becomes inflamed. This is often due to overexertion when performing lowering leg activities like running, walking, and jumping. It’s also common in those that have poor ankle mobility, weakness in the glutes, tightness in the quads, and weakness in the quads, notes Deibler.
Pay attention to how much stress you put on your joints. Additionally, avoid always repeating the same exact exercises and instead switch things up to avoid overexerting your muscles. “If you normally run only for your workouts, you can look at other forms of exercise, like getting in the pool for a workout or maybe trying a rowing machine,” he says. “Also, make sure to improve your ankle range of motion to help take unwanted stress off the knee, as well as strengthening the hip muscles and the quadriceps and hamstrings to create better stability at the knee.”