Resistance bands, the stretchy, multi-colored elastic bands that can be used for everything from physical therapy to strength training, are seeing a surge in popularity.
There are a number of reasons for this expanding interest, including their versatility, low cost, and the small amount of space they take up. The American Council on Exercise has a large and growing list of resistance band and cable exercises available on their website.
Perfect for home workouts
Another factor led to the rising popularity of exercise resistance bands, according to Kara Cavuoto, M.D., an ophthalmologist at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. They are perfect for working out at home, which made them the ideal choice for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are exploring new avenues of exercises that can be done at home,” she says.
Snap-back injury can happen
Though resistance bands have helped keep people healthy and active at home, unfortunately, Dr. Cavuoto says they are not without their risks. For example, doctors are seeing an increase in eye injuries related to using these bands.
In most cases, this occurs when someone does not have a firm grasp on the end of a band, causing it to snap loose like a rubber band and damage the eye or other body parts. “The bands can cause a wide array of injuries, ranging from minor superficial bruising around the eye to permanent and irreversible vision loss,” says Dr. Cavuoto.
This phenomenon was first noted in isolated case studies by organizations such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology several years ago.
But this year in particular, the growth in the use of the bands has led to larger studies with multiple participants. In fact, one study of 11 patients at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute was published in a December 2020 issue of The American Journal of Emergency Medicine.
The researchers in that study observed that exercise resistance bands could cause various eye injuries. Still, blunt trauma to the eye resulting in iritis or hyphema were the most common injuries. Some of the injuries were severe enough to cause permanent eye damage.
“Trauma from exercise bands can result in a wide range of injuries, which may be self-resolving and minor, such as bruising of the skin around the eye, to more severe, such as inflammation or bleeding inside the eye and retinal detachment,” says Dr. Cavuoto. “The possible eye injuries may require treatments ranging from topical eye drops to sometimes even eye surgery.”
The key to stay safe using resistance bands
Despite the risks, Dr. Cavuoto says that resistance bands remain a viable and valuable exercise option for many people, particularly at home during the pandemic.
The key, she says, is taking proper safety precautions. Make sure that you are using the bands in a manner that reduces your risk of injury.
“In addition to following guidelines for the appropriate use of this equipment, we recommend strongly considering wearing eye protection such as goggles or glasses while using resistance bands for exercise,” she says. “If you do suffer an eye injury due to exercise resistance bands, please see an ophthalmologist immediately, particularly if you have any vision changes.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
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