How to Avoid HIIT Injuries

Medically reviewed by Dr Ong Kee Leong, MBBS (Singapore), MMed (Ortho), FRCSEd (Ortho), Senior Consultant

While high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an effective, time-efficient way of improving fitness and strength, it can also cause more injuries than other workouts. Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon DR ONG KEE LEONG shares some common HIIT injuries and how to prevent them.

HIIT is a cardio-based workout that alternates spurts of intense exercise with low-intensity recovery periods. It can entail sprints, spinning and high-tempo circuit training including burpees, jump-squats and mountain climbers; strength-based bodyweight, kettlebell, barbell or battle-rope exercises are often incorporated, too.

While HIIT has many health benefits when performed properly, I’ve seen many patients sustain injuries during this type of training. It’s usually not the movements themselves that cause injury, rather, poor form and preparation are to blame.

Common HIIT injuries include:

Knee injuries

Knee conditions are the most common ailment in HIIT athletes. Cartilage damage can occur from repetitive motion of the knee joint – and only worsens with stair and box climbing, or landing after a jump. Meniscus tears frequently occur when an athlete bends or straightens the knee in an explosive, but slightly awkward or careless manner – resulting in pain and a locking sensation. 

When diagnosed early, these problems can be resolved with physiotherapy, a well-fitted knee brace and anti-inflammatories. More severe cases may require surgical repair.

Shoulder injuries

Shoulder impingement is common with HIIT; it occurs when the upper arm is brought through a wide arc of motion rapidly, and forcefully or abruptly used to hold up significant loads, leading to a rotator cuff injury.

Also common are injuries to the labrum – the rubber band-like structure that keeps the shoulder in its socket – that cause pain or clicking. Labral tears often occur with repeated overhead arm movements, or while using a bodyweight or barbell.

When diagnosed early, these injuries can effectively be treated with rest, exercise modification and guided strengthening exercises with a physiotherapist. A larger tear usually requires minimally invasive keyhole surgery. The sooner you seek medical advice, the better, as it can affect the amount of downtime you’ll experience later.

Elbow injuries

Usually attributed to overtraining with inadequate rest in between, or poor technique, elbow pain can be so severe that writing is impossible. 

Early recognition of the problem will give the athlete a head start in returning to a fitness regime. And exercise modifications, anti-inflammatories and guided stretching exercises will give the worn-out tendons a chance to recover. An adjustable elbow brace can also provide great symptomatic relief.

If the condition is more severe, a steroidal anti-inflammation injection can help. Less commonly, arthroscopic keyhole surgery may be required.

Back injuries

Poor core strength and lifting with poor form can result in back strains. Usually, milder strains can be treated with rest, stretching exercises, heat packs and anti-inflammatory medication. 

Back injuries that persist even after a few days of rest and medication – particularly those associated with leg weakness, numbness, a pins and needles sensation or shooting pain – should be checked by a doctor. An MRI scan of the spine may be necessary to check for a herniated disc.

Top Tips For Avoiding HIIT Injuries

  • Warm up and stretch, before and after high-intensity exercise
  • When starting out, make sure your exercise technique and form are correct (have an attentive coach!)
  • Don’t ramp up training unless you’ve built up the core strength and muscle memory required
  • Cross train with a diverse range of exercises
  • Deliberately set aside adequate time for your body to rest and recover, you are not a machine (no matter what others may tell you!)
  • Remember that no pain is not no gain! If you’re in pain, stop, assess and see a medical professional for advice

"Moving your body the way nature intended is a freedom not well appreciated until it is lost. We are passionate about getting you back in the game, and staying in the game. Our team is fully committed to returning you to the life and activities you love."

Dr Ong Kee Leong

About Dr Ong Kee Leong

Senior Consultant, MBBS (Singapore), MMed (Ortho), FRCSEd (Ortho)

Dr Ong Kee Leong is a fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon. He subspecializes in shoulder and knee, foot and ankle, hand wrist and elbow surgeries, arthroscopic sports surgery, and the management of sports-related injuries.

He has been registered with the Singapore Medical Council as a specialist in Orthopaedic Surgery since 2011.

  • MBBS, National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Medicine 2001
  • Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh 2007
  • Master of Medicine in Orthopaedic Surgery (NUS) 2007
  • Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in Orthopaedic Surgery 2011
  • Health Manpower Development Plan (HMDP) Scholarship, Ministry of Health 2012-2013:
  • Sports Surgery and Arthroscopy in Germany (Hannover)
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, Lee Kong Chian School Of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University
  • Senior Clinical Lecturer, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS
Awards & Teaching
  • Dr Ong had received numerous awards such as Best Service and Eastern Health Alliance Caring (Gold) Awards.
  • He also has an interest in clinical research and has written papers in multiple peer review journals. As a Core Faculty of Singhealth Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program, he oversees the training of junior orthopaedic surgeons.
  • Regularly invited to teach local and regional surgeons in Shoulder and Knee Surgery Courses.
  • He is a recipient of multiple teaching awards including the Singhealth Residency Outstanding Faculty Awards from 2014-2016 and Changi General Hospital Outstanding Educator Awards 2015-2016.

Why Do Patients Choose Dr Ong Kee Leong?

  • Dr. Ong Is Passionate In Sports, Giving Him A Deep Understanding Of Sports-Related Injuries And How They Can Be Treated
  • Fellowship Trained Surgeon With 15 Years Of Experience In Orthopaedic Conditions
  • Personalised And Professional Approach To Deliver High-Quality Orthopaedic Care Based On The Most Up-To-Date Literature
  • Detailed Aftercare Plan To Ensure Smooth, Long-Term Recovery
  • Problem-Oriented, Well-Organised and Individualized Treatment Plans Catered To Your Specific Needs
  • Specialist In The Management Of Sports Injuries And Degenerative Conditions Of The Shoulder And Knee Joints
  • Knowledgeable And Pleasant Clinical Staff To Assist You With Your Every Need Detailed Aftercare Plan To Ensure
  • Our Care Is Conveniently Accessible At Mount Elizabeth Novena and Farrer Park hospital
  • Minimal Waiting Time For Initial Consultation
  • Assistance With Medical Claims (e.g. Medisave & Integrated Shield Plans)

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