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Serious weight-room accidents are uncommon

September 29, 2009 | 12:25 pm

Weight

Despite the high number of athletes who lift weights, serious injuries are rare, according to strength and conditioning experts.

The injury to USC tailback Stafon Johnson on Monday is among the worst in memory, several experts said. Johnson, a senior, was injured while performing a bench-press exercise. A spotter was present, but the bar accidentally fell on Johnson's throat. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Several studies on weight-training injuries completed in the 1980s and 1990s showed extremely low injury rates. A 1990 study on college football players revealed an injury rate of 0.35 per 100 players per season, said Kent Adams, director of the exercise physiology lab at Cal State Monterey Bay, and a fellow with the American College of Sports Medicine.

Another study, by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, found that most weight-lifting injuries occur at home, not in supervised settings such as gyms and school weight rooms.

"Weight-lifting injuries are extremely rare in supervised situations," Adams said. "It sounds like what happened with this young man was a freak accident."

But the most comprehensive study on the issue, published in 2000 in the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine, suggests a higher overall frequency of injuries. Hand injuries are the most common while head and neck injuries rank third, according to research conducted by Dr. Ches Jones, a professor of health science at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The study examined more than 20,000 weight-lifting injuries reported in hospital emergency rooms nationwide from 1978 to 1998. During that period, interest in weight-lifting among Americans soared, and so did injuries, rising 35% during the 20-year period.

Among the injuries, 23.8% were to the hand, 18.8% to the upper trunk, and 16.4% to the head and neck. Most of the injuries, 64%, were soft-tissue trauma, such as bruises.

However, the study included all injuries related to weight-lifting that resulted in a trip to the hospital. These included injuries to bystanders, such as children playing with home weight equipment, as well as injuries, like muscle pain, that appeared after the weight-lifting session, Jones said.

"It is very rare for serious injuries to occur from weight lifting," Jones said. But he added, "The higher the weight, the more the potential danger even if you have a buddy system."

According to Adams, the most common cause of weight-lifting injuries is poor technique.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: M.J. Williams  /  For The Times

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