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Results of Crossfit Injury Survey

In my line of work as a physical therapist, peer review journal articles are known as a cure for insomnia. I will do my best to get to the point and maybe convince you to give some love to your coaches.

We modeled our survey after a recent article from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published in The Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. They surveyed 102 club/high school swimmers.

Here are some of the findings from that article:

72% of high school swimmers used pain meds in the past year to get through practice. 47% of these swimmers used meds one or more times a week!

85% had mild shoulder pain in the last year, 61% moderate pain, and 21% reported severe shoulder pain.

Here is where their survey and ours differ: They did statistics called chi square which correlates “who had pain” with “who thought it was normal to train with pain”. Survey monkey would not do that, so I just flat out asked you “Is training with pain normal?

With the high school study, there was a significant relationship between “moderate shoulder pain and swimming”, and “severe shoulder pain and swimming”. That means these high school swimmers think it is normal to have moderate/severe shoulder pain while swimming. There was no relationship with mild shoulder pain and swimming.

Now compare that with our 94 local CrossFit athletes.

34% reported that they took some type of pain medication during the past year. Only 6% took medication 1-3 times a week.

33% of the CrossFit athletes reported training with mild pain, 2% with moderate pain and 0% trained with severe pain.

Now the purpose of this survey was not to bash high school swimming or beat our chest and say how great CrossFit is. My motivation was to silence some of the CrossFit haters.

But reflecting on the results of this survey my thoughts turned to: Who told these kids it is OK to swim with shoulder pain? Who told them it was OK to take pain meds 1-3 times a week? I have a teenage son and he does not listen to his physical therapist daddy, but he does listen to his coach.

Let’s face it, club sports is big business. Parents with dreams of D1 scholarships will spend money on their teenager because they think she/he is the next coming of Michael Phelps. To attract these cash cows, coaches need to have a winning program and must keep their athletes in the water. No. Matter. What.

When CrossFitters were asked “If you reported an injury to your coach what did she/he suggest?” 61% reported mobility exercises, 23% check your form, 11% seek medical care, and 0% reported to take pain medications.

The demographics of the CrossFit athlete are different from a high school swimmer. I did not survey this, but the people I train with are 30-40 years old, intelligent, professional and good-looking. Best of all, they laugh at my unfunny jokes; obviously, not a high school athlete. Your coach can’t just tell you something and you blindly buy it. You are not an awe-struck teenager.

Because you are professionals, the CrossFit coach must also be professional. They must be part fitness consultant, part cheerleader, and part biomechanics expert, in addition to making the atmosphere fun in the box. If they don’t, you won’t come back and that is completely different dynamics than the club/high school coach.

The culture of club/high school swimming is to keep swimming with shoulder pain even if it means taking pain medication. The culture of CrossFit is to exercise with 30-40 year old, good-looking professionals. If they report an injury to their coach, the coach tells them to do mobility exercises. Now which activity sounds more dangerous to you?

Ron Satow PT, OCS