Seven painful side-effects from overdoing exercise
Even yoga can bring on painful injuries.
Is your high-intensity workout giving you headaches? Do you have Spinning foot? Then you’re not alone. As more of us acquire a gym habit, we’re seeing a new wave of unwanted side-effects that go beyond the common muscle tears and strains. In some cases that’s because the craze for intensive exercise means we’re driving ourselves harder. “Complaints that used to be quite rare and exclusive to elite athletes are now much more widespread,” says Dr Michael Burdon, a consultant in sport, exercise and musculoskeletal medicine at Pure Sports Medicine in London. Some of these issues can be debilitating unless dealt with swiftly. Thankfully, there are remedies for most so that you aren’t stopped in your tracks for too long.
Side-effect: teeth grinding
Over time, grinding and clenching can cause teeth to break or holes and cracks to appear.
Last year a study found that more than 80 per cent of people clench their jaw and grind their teeth while lifting weights. Professor Damien Walmsley, the scientific adviser to the British Dental Association, says that bruxism, as it’s called, is surprisingly common. “When you’re lifting heavy weights the strain you exert and the focus required often leads to clenching of the teeth,” he says. “Some believe clenching is a natural response that is intended to make the head and neck a more solid unit when you lift, but the habit isn’t great for your teeth.”
Over time, grinding and clenching can cause teeth to break or holes and cracks to appear. “It will also put stress on the muscles of the face and the joints that allow the mouth to open,” Walmsley says. “And that can lead to headaches and pain around the jaw.”
What to do
First become aware of the problem. In the study only 35 per cent of people found to grind teeth in the gym knew that they were doing it. If you are a serial jaw clencher and have signs of wear (spotted by your dentist) or jaw pain, you may need added protection from a mouth guard. “Your dentist will recommend a sports guard, which can either be made of a soft or hard plastic material. The hard acrylic varieties are more durable and resistant to forces,” Walmsley says. “In some cases it may even improve the athlete’s performance by reducing tension.”
Side-effect: rower’s bum
The heavier you are, the greater the pressure on your buttocks.
Anyone who is a regular user of the physical punishment that is the rowing ergometer will be aware that “rower’s bum” is a thing. When rowing, your backside bears your body weight and your gluteal muscles are largely responsible for much of the force required to power the leg drive and perform each stroke. The heavier you are, the greater the pressure on your buttocks. Some rowing regulars complain of saddle sores or that the skin around their tail bone is rubbed raw after a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session on the rowing machine.
“It can be an annoying and painful experience that affects some people but not others,” says Zac Purchase, the Olympic gold medal-winning rower who runs a gym with indoor rowing classes in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
What to do
Perfecting your technique is important. Slumping in the seat or rounding your back and shoulders can add to the gluteal pressure, Purchase says. “Unlike blisters on the hands, you can’t just add liberal amounts of tape to get around the issue,” he says. “The only real way is to reduce the weight and therefore rubbing on the seat by increasing suspension off the seat — by raising a little — during the drive phase of the stroke, although it’s not good technique and can cause uncomfortable friction.”
Gel or foam seat pads or padded shorts are an option and some indoor rowers swear by applying Micropore tape to the affected area an hour before a session so that it has a chance to stick firmly. Or you could reduce the friction with Rowers Rub, a salve containing essential oils such as marjoram and clove that provides a thin layer of natural wax.
The International Headache Society classifies exercise as a possible trigger for head pain.
A thumping head after a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) class is not unusual. In a 2013 study (in the Journal of Headache and Pain) 38 per cent of people said they experienced post-exercise headaches. The International Headache Society classifies exercise as a possible trigger for head pain. One theory is that pushing your body hard during HIIT causes blood vessels to dilate so that they pull on surrounding nerve fibres, transmitting pain signals to the brain. “Dehydration headaches are also common after exercise,” Burdon says. “And while exercise alleviates migraines for some people, it can trigger them in others.”
What to do
If you are getting headaches after a hard workout, you should first rule out dehydration as a cause by checking the colour of your urine (it should be a pale straw colour). “If the headache is severe and sudden, causing vision problems and nausea, it is vital you seek medical help,” Burdon says, “but if persistent over time, then taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, or something stronger from your GP, might help.”
Side-effect: breast and testicular pain
Good support is essential for both male and female marathon runners.
You might think that tired legs would be your primary concern during long-distance running, but breast pain (mastalgia) is a preoccupation for as many as a third of women runners. In a 2014 study involving 1,397 female entrants to the London marathon, 32 per cent had experienced pain in the breasts when training, some to the point that they had needed to take painkillers.
Joanna Wakefield-Scurr, a professor in biomechanics who is the head of the research group in breast health at the University of Portsmouth where the study was carried out, says the pain can be hormonal, but with runners it is often the result of excessive movement of the breasts due to inadequate support from a bra. “Almost one fifth of women we questioned had altered their training as a result of their breast pain,” Wakefield-Scurr says.
Men do not escape. “Some men experience aching in their testicles after running, which can be linked to the long-duration pounding causing movement,” Burdon says. “For about one in seven the problem could be linked to genetically enlarged veins in the scrotum, called varicocele, that are basically faulty valves and respond to the muscle tensing and increased blood flow of running by becoming inflamed.”
What to do
In all cases, good support is essential. For women, a crop top is ineffective even if you are an A cup. “You can’t wear the same bra for all activities as something like yoga has different requirements to running,” Wakefield-Scurr says. “Make sure you get fitted for a high-impact sports bra for running and that it provides the support you need.” Testicular pain often subsides when men improve their choice of underwear. “Most specialist running shorts have a built-in liner that offers some support. Enhance that with tighter-fitting briefs or boxers,” Burdon says. “Avoid too much compression as that could make the problem worse.”
Side-effect: eye infection
Don’t think that wearing goggles over contact lenses is a solution.
Eye infections are a growing problem for people who swim in public pools, which are often infected with urine. Swimming outdoors can also result in infections caused by waterborne bacteria and other bugs. Contact lens users face the highest risk.
In September a study by researchers from University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital reported that since 2011 there has been a threefold increase in cases of acanthamoeba keratitis, a disease that causes the cornea to become inflamed.
In a study involving people who wear re-usable contact lenses daily (though the risks are also associated with disposable lenses), published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, the team looked at 63 people with the disease and 213 without. They found the risk of developing acanthamoeba keratitis was more than three times greater among people with poor hygiene and also among those who wore their contact lenses while swimming.
The consequences can be serious. One quarter of the most severely affected patients had less than 25 per cent of vision or had become blind.
What to do
Professor John Dart, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, says the problem is “largely preventable” and that contact lens wearers should “avoid wearing them while swimming, face washing or bathing”. Goggles are a necessity whether you wear lenses or not. Don’t think that wearing goggles over contact lenses is a solution because water often seeps in. The safest option is to use goggles made with your prescription, which can be ordered through your optician.
Side-effect: numb feet
As blood flow increases when you cycle, your feet swell and become constricted in shoes that are too tight.
Foot numbness is one of the most commonly googled concerns about Spinning or cycling, but what causes it? Burdon says it’s usually a result of the feet swelling and nerves in the foot becoming compressed.
Clip-in cycling shoes that are too small can be to blame. “As blood flow increases when you cycle, your feet swell and become constricted in shoes that are too tight,” he says. “It can also be the result of referred pain caused by poor technique or bad positioning of the saddle, which causes stress on the lower back and pinched nerves.”
What to do
When Spinning, don’t wear thick socks or shoes that are too tight. “It’s also worth seeing a physiotherapist who can assess the way you sit on a bike,” Burdon says. “A seat position needs correcting as it can contribute to symptoms like numbness and tingling. Often, foot numbness can be a result of being too hunched in the saddle.”
Side-effect: wrist and arm pain
The high rate of wrist and arm pain in yoga is “possibly due to downward dog and similar postures that put weight on the upper limb”.
Of all the injuries incurred doing yoga, wrist pain is the most common. A 2017 study, published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, reported that one in ten of the 350 yoga participants who took part had experienced musculoskeletal pain, mostly in their arms, and that one fifth of existing injuries, particularly those in the upper limbs, were made worse by yoga practice. Of new injuries incurred during yoga, the most common were in the wrist and hand and, says the lead researcher Evangelos Pappas, an associate professor in the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Sciences, “more than one third of cases of pain caused by yoga were serious enough to prevent yoga participation and lasted more than three months”.
What to do
Pappas says that the high rate of wrist and arm pain in yoga is “possibly due to downward dog and similar postures that put weight on the upper limb” and that people should limit the time spent in those postures, especially if they have a previous injury. “People should make sure they warm up their hands and arms with stretches,” Burdon says, “but they also need to think about the proximal chain — ie what happens further up the body — and be aware that strong shoulders and arms will protect weak wrists.” Rest, ice and taking paracetamol can help to relieve minor pain, he adds.
— The Times
- By Peta Bee
- The Times
- 6:42PM November 27, 2018