Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

CrossFit Does Not Cause Injuries, Ego Does

December 21, 2021

CrossFit gets a bad reputation for having high rates of injury. I have heard many Physical Therapists and Orthopedic Surgeons say things such as “CrossFit keeps me in business.” This could not be further from the truth and is a lie the healthcare profession needs to stop propagating. My hypotheses for why people repeat ignorant statements like this are as follows:

  1. They heard that a study (not a study they read) found high injury rates in CrossFit

  2. They have never done CrossFit and have never experienced the community

  3. Individuals that do CrossFit seek out skilled care from healthcare practitioners because they are passionate about their own health and wellness

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as well as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have been trying to prove that CrossFit causes injuries for nearly a decade ( ACSM Accidentally Shows CrossFit Safer Than Own Program). What this has resulted in is the NSCA settling a lawsuit in 2021 that was filed by CrossFit Inc. in 2016 for publishing an article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning which identified the article many people reference claiming high drop-out rates due to injury in the study of CrossFit training methodology was not only a fraudulent claim but that the “data” used to substantiate this claim was falsified. The NCSA paid over $4 million in legal fees to CrossFit Inc. along with an undisclosed financial sum. Seems the PTs that heard about that article did not hear about the fact it made claims substantiated by falsified data (CrossFit v NSCA Lawsuit Settled).

Injury rates in CrossFit have been identified in viable and legitimate research studies to occur at rates of 2-3 per 1000 hours trained (3.1/1000h trained reported by Hak et al). These rates are similar to those identified during Olympic Weightlifting (3.3/1000h trained), gymnastics (3.1/1000h trained), and rugby (3/1000h trained). Other sporting activities with higher injury rates identified by the literature include American High School Football (140 per 1000 exposure hours), ice hockey (78.4 injuries per 1000 exposure hours), and both men’s and women’s soccer (4.22 and 5.21 injuries per 1000 exposure hours respectively). The most commonly reported CrossFit injuries occurred in the shoulder (25%), low back, and knee. Injury severity ranged from muscular strain to dislocation and rotator cuff tear in the shoulder, but was commonly identified in the knee as anterior knee pain with squatting that did not impact function or participation.

Injuries in CrossFit occur most frequently in individuals training less than 4x/week and greater than 6x/week indicating likely associations between injury and both over-training and under-training. Research also identified class size as having moderate correlation with injury rates with a higher athlete to coach ratio commonly being associated with increased rates of injury. In my Boulder Physical Therapy experience, the individual most likely to be injured in a CrossFit gym is the 20-40 year old male that is a former athlete with a relative strength base and slightly skewed perception of their current capabilities in light of their previous athletic performance (myself not excluded). 

The myth that CrossFit is dangerous or causes injuries needs to end. Fitness programs of all types prevent people from developing chronic disease and should be supported. Get out to your local box and throw down on some heavy clean and jerks, go Fran your little heart out, train for a half-marathon, whatever you enjoy to stay fit and healthy! Keep it constant, keep it varied, keep it functional, and keep it high intensity. Come see us at MEND if you desire to improve performance, want to reduce risk of injury, or are unlucky enough to sustain an injury.

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