If you take aerobics classes, you probably think of them as enjoyable exercise, but caution will save you from serious injuries.
In 1984, Kaye Barnett was in an aerobics class on the Hawaiian island of Waikoloa. It was very warm, she says. ”We were going fast and furious. My blood was pumping quickly and the instructor kept shouting, ‘You can do it!’ Then she had us cool down very quickly. I bent down to touch my toes then felt something explode in my head.”
When Barnett stood up she had a migraine headache and was blind in her right eye. Doctors did a cerebral arteriogram which showed the blood vessels behind the eye were constricted causing the blindness. After taking medication to dilate the blood vessels, her headache disappeared and sight returned.
She didn’t have permanent aftereffects but a neurologist told Barnett she should never do aerobics again.“Now I monitor my heart rate when doing any kind of aerobic activity.”
Most aerobic injuries are not as serious as Barnett’s. Acute injuries, often to the ankle or knee, can result from a fall or twist. Overuse injuries develop slowly, from doing too much, too soon without recovery time. Shin pain, foot and knee overuse injuries are most common. And back injuries can result from or be made worse by aerobics. The good news is these can be prevented.
Today, most people think of aerobics as classes which combine dance with body movements such as skipping, walking running, jumping and toe-touching. These tone muscles and develop cardiovascular fitness. People usually exercise to music in classes of different levels of intensity led by certified instructors.
The health benefits of aerobics classes include weight loss or management, conditioning the heart and lungs by increasing available oxygen and by helping the heart use oxygen efficiently.
They can also help manage stress and lower the risk of hypertension and stroke.
Before you start aerobic exercise, you should have a heart and lung assessment if you’re over 40. And have a musculoskeletal assessment by a sports medicine professional if you’ve been injured.
Dr. Richard Backus, a sports and exercise medicine doctor at Rebalance MD, says warming up and cooling down are essential for preventing injuries.
“Choose a type of aerobics suitable for your fitness level,” he says. “Cross training is good though most instructors won’t advise this. Try different types of classes that give you adequate recovery time.”
Jenny Lehmann, a kinesiologist from Parkway Physiotherapy, says you should start doing aerobics with a manageable exercise program.
“People often aren’t aware of posture and form. Injuries may be from overload, and not correcting movement patterns and adjusting imbalances before starting. You often don’t change these until you feel pain.”
She believes classes should be advertised as to age groups and abilities. “Seniors may have osteoarthritis and are more likely to injure joints. People with chronic injuries should continue rehabilitation until after their pain is gone.”
Crystal Pool aerobics instructor Amanda Gagh has taught students of all ages for 30 years.
“Personality types more than sports cause injuries,” says Gagh. “Some people are competitive and don’t listen to their bodies.”
Intense physical activity has been known to precede heart attacks but “your risk of having a heart attack after doing aerobics is low and once you start it goes down,” says Backus.
Only people predisposed to heart conditions are likely to get heart attacks after aerobics, says Lehmann. “Let your heart rate get back to resting levels before continuing other activities.”
According to Gagh, you can have a heart attack from doing too much, too fast in any sport. “You should always warm up, even before a walk.”
If You’re Injured
Get help from first aid personnel. If injuries don’t respond quickly, see a sports medicine doctor. Don’t wait until pain is severe because overuse injuries may cause mild discomfort at first, then get worse.
– MARGARET BOYES