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Safety First: Study Shows Weight Room Injuries on the Rise

By L.K. Regan

Real men lift weights. And, sometimes, they drop those weights. On themselves. This, along with the more usual strains and sprains, is part of a substantial rise in weight-training injuries found by researchers at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital. More of us are lifting, the scholars find, and as we do, more of us are getting hurt.

The researchers, part of the Center for Injury Research, are publishing their study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. They used data collected from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which provides information on sports and recreation-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments across the country. There were over 970,000 injuries from weight training treated in U.S. emergency rooms from 1990 to 2007, with the number of injuries increasing nearly 50 percent over the course of the study. That's about 150 injuries requiring treatment per day.

It will be no surprise that men sustained most of the damage (82 percent—whoops!) and that most of the injuries involved free weights. Specifically, dropping them (65 percent). Interestingly enough, some 25 percent of these dropping injuries were to the upper trunk, indicating, it would seem, a fair amount of bench-press-gone-wrong. Lower trunk and hands were next. Sprains and strains led the list of specific types of injuries with 46 percent.

Young men under the age of 24 are the most likely to be injured, but the biggest increase in injury incidence came among those aged 45 to 55, which is to be expected given the degree to which our contemporary culture encourages vigorous activity much later in life than did earlier generations. But the men in their forties and fifties get injured in a different way than their younger peers: largely by weight machines rather than free weights, and with injuries from overexertion, or lifting and/or pulling. Younger men get more lacerations and fractures, and they drop more weights on themselves, especially if they are under the age of 12. (Who is lifting before the age of 12?)

“Before beginning a weight training program, it is important that people of all ages consult with a health professional, such as a doctor or athletic trainer, to create a safe training program based on their age and capabilities,” said study author Dawn Comstock, PhD. “Getting proper instruction on how to use weight lifting equipment and the proper technique for lifts, as well as providing trained supervision for youths engaging in weight training, will also reduce the risk of injury.” This seems like a good time to point our members to our tips for locating a personal trainer. It's never too late to seek expert help at the gym.