How to Avoid the Most Common CrossFit Injuries

By February, the crowds at the gym are beginning to thin out. Some disappear because the zeal of a New Year’s resolution has already dried up. Others are sidelined because enthusiasm led to injury. Dr . Kathryn Grannatt, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine, says injuries from CrossFit land a lot of

image of Dr . Kathryn Grannatt

patients in her Needham, MA office. “I’m a big proponent of CrossFit. It keeps me very busy.” While Dr. Grannatt laughs about the frequency, the injuries she sees are no joke. CrossFitters commonly come to her with hurt knees and shoulders – what she calls over-use injuries.

“It’s very intense training, often 5 or 6 times a week and I see chronic injuries to rotator cuffs, to the knee I’ve seen a lot of meniscus tears due to CrossFit. Although it’s a healthy idea, I think a lot of people are getting into it without appropriate conditioning and training.”


Ask Questions to Avoid Injury

Starting a CrossFit program doesn’t have to mean you’re going to get hurt, says Max Lipset, owner of The Power House at Highland in St. Paul, MN. He teaches CrossFit to everyone from newcomers to Olympic athletes. As CrossFit has grown from a craze into a mainstream workout, Max says hundreds of gyms have popped up all over the place. He suggests before you join a gym, do your homework. “I recommend definitely going to visit a gym, have some conversations, and ask a lot of questions.” His list includes:

1. How will you introduce me to CrossFit? The on-ramp process is important in keeping you injury-free.
2. How are your trainers trained? Some may go through a very short certification process while others may have years of experience. CrossFit offers multiple levels of certification and it’s fair to ask your potential coaches how much time they have spent on their education.
3. What kinds of questions will you ask me? You’re looking for a gym that wants to know all about your old aches and pains.

Your individual medical history is the key to CrossFit, Max explains. He tailors workouts specifically to a client’s assessment but not every gym does that.

Max Lipset training woman in gym

3 Tips to CrossFit Safely

Want to leave the gym healthier than when you walked in the door? First: start slow. You may think of CrossFit as a 5 or 6-day-a-week routine, but

Dr. Steven Pollei, a neuroradiologist at RAYUS Radiology in Federal Way, WA, says slowly building up is important – especially if you’re over age 40.

“People who are 40 or 50 who haven’t been doing CrossFit, shouldn’t jump in and expect to do it from the beginning. They should ramp it up.”

Slowly building up (also called scaling at some gyms) will help you learn the widely varied movements involved in CrossFit. Max says even if you’re coming to CrossFit as an athlete, there’s a lot to learn. Look for options to each exercise and pick the one that fits your fitness level and how you’re feeling that day.

“We offer different levels in our programming for our clients to make sure there’s always an option for people to do something that’s less technical or less heavy on a given day depending on how they’re feeling or what their familiarity is with the movement. Making sure that you’re involved with a gym that’s comfortable scaling things up and down to your ability level is super important.”

You also need to make sure that you’re learning a movement in a way that’s relevant to your medical history. So, Second: Go in-depth. The more of your medical history you share, the more your trainer can cater to you. Put your new CrossFit coach in touch with your old physical therapist or physician. And don’t be afraid to bring up old injuries. Whether it’s a ski accident in high school or a car crash last year, your medical history is important to doing CrossFit safely, Max says. “A lot of people will come into a gym for the first time and not want to share that kind of stuff, but CrossFit is a program that is meant to be done for a lifetime and so you really want to be upfront with those pieces of information from the beginning.”

Quote from Max Lipset
Third: Be careful with competition. CrossFit may bring out your competitive side. You may have the urge to out box-jump the person next to you at the gym. But if you want to avoid injury, Max offers a word of caution. Be realistic about what you can (and can’t) do.

“There are times where it is good to have people around you to push you if you need that kind of push, but it can also be a factor that pushes you to try to go too fast on a movement when you don’t have the mechanics down yet.”

Instead try to measure your own personal progress. Compete against last week’s accomplishments rather than the people around you.

Caring for CrossFit Injuries

If you do get hurt doing CrossFit, know that you are in good company. Over the past 4 years, Dr. Pollei has noticed a jump in the number of CrossFit injuries he sees.

“People are getting hurt doing activities that their bodies aren’t used to. The programs were designed for 20 year olds. Done correctly they are very good activities but done incorrectly, they are not good for you.”

Knowing when you’re hurt and getting medical help is important. If you have an injury, getting the right diagnosis right away will speed your return to CrossFit. As Max has coached athletes over the past decade, he’s seen at least a dozen who have been hurt were not able to recover fully until the problem was accurately diagnosed.

“I’ve definitely been frustrated by that situation as a coach many times; Athletes who do get a scan, and their care providers – get all the information you need to make the correct diagnosis, come up with the correct plan of care. Having the correct plan of care is the key to the athlete getting better. There’s certain things you can address as a strength and conditioning coach or a physical therapist and certain things you can’t and a scan can be they key to knowing the correct path.”

By scan, he means medical imaging which can help with the diagnosis. When it comes to CrossFit injuries resulting in soft tissue damage, there are a variety of tools to diagnose the problem. RAYUS can help your doctor order the right scan to inform a care plan that’s realistic and has an impact.

Finally, if you do get hurt, be patient with your recovery. Dr. Grannatt says that’s the hardest piece of advice for her patients to follow.

“They want to be better faster so they can get back to it as quickly as possible. It’s setting expectations about how long these injuries take to heal and the downtime that is necessary for them to get back to their sport. Our gym is a CrossFit gym and we have a lot of experience working with people who have been through injuries, so we appreciate the role of imaging in creating effective programming.”