Playing a sport or doing any other regular exercise is essential for good health. But whether you’re kicking a football, playing golf or jogging around the local park, you don’t want an injury to stop you in your tracks.
There are many different causes but common reasons are a fall, a sudden twisting movement or exercising intensely without warming up first. Some injuries are acute, meaning they happen suddenly — like a sprained ankle. Others are chronic and develop gradually — for example, when a ligament or tendon is overused by repeating the same movement over time.
Whether you’re playing a sport, lifting weights or going for a brisk walk, it pays to warm up first. Cold muscles are more likely to be injured — by increasing circulation to the muscles, a warm up can help prevent injury, especially if you’re an early morning exerciser who’s just awake. When the weather is colder, it’s best to spend more time warming up.
How you warm up depends on the activity you’re doing — the idea is to warm up the major muscles you’ll be using by doing some light exercise. If you’re walking or jogging, Smartplay suggests a two to three minute brisk walk or jog which raises a light sweat to warm up your leg muscles before you step up the pace. If your activity includes using your upper body, you need to warm up those muscles too — with basketball, for instance, you could do a few gentle throws or shoots. If you’re lifting weights, then use a light weight to do a few slow, low-intensity repetitions.
Not necessarily. Although stretching before and after a workout is often recommended to prevent injury, recent Australian research suggests that although it may help prevent muscle soreness after exercise, stretching doesn’t significantly reduce injury risk. But it’s still worth stretching warm muscles after exercise. A five to 10 minute stretching session emphasising the major groups of muscles you have just used can help your body get rid of muscle waste products and help reduce soreness and stiffness.
The right footwear for your activity is important. Shoes need to provide stability and support. If the activity involves high-impact movement, shoes need to cushion this impact. If your activity requires a helmet, mouthguard, shin pads or wrist, elbow or knee guards, they need to be fitted properly and be in good condition.
Adding variety to your fitness routine (also known as cross training) can help prevent overuse injuries caused by doing the same movements over and over again. Vary a routine of jogging by cycling or swimming, for example. Or include some strength training sessions into your routine. This has two advantages — it varies your activities and also helps prevent injury by improving muscle strength. Strengthening the leg muscles that help support the knee can help prevent knee injuries, for instance.
Inexperience or doing movements incorrectly (poor form) is another cause of injury. Advice from a qualified coach can help ensure correct technique.
If you’re pregnant, overweight, lead a mostly inactive lifestyle, have heart disease or a family history of heart disease or have any health or musculoskeletal problems you should check with your doctor before starting an exercise program to make sure the activity is appropriate for you.
Drink water before, during and after exercise to stay hydrated. If you’re exercising outdoors, protect your skin from the sun with spf30 sunscreen and a hat.
A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament (ligaments are bands of tissue that attach bones to joints). Falling, twisting movements or a blow can all cause a sprain. Ankle and wrist sprains are common. Symptoms include pain, swelling and bruising.
A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon (a tendon is tissue connecting muscle to bone). Strains can be caused by pulling or twisting a muscle or tendon. Strains in the back muscles or hamstrings (the muscle at the back of the thigh) are common. Symptoms include pain, muscle spasms, swelling and difficulty moving the area where the stretched or torn muscle is located.
Knee injuries can be caused by a fall, a blow to the knee while playing contact sports, overuse, jumping, sudden changes of direction or suddenly stopping. These actions are common in many sports. High-risk activities for knees include skiing, basketball and running. Improving flexibility and muscle strength around the knee can help prevent knee injuries.
The general advice for minor soft-tissue injuries such as strains and sprains is to apply the RICER remedy. RICER stands for:
Monash University Accident Research Centre www.monash.edu.au/muarc
Better Health Channel. Exercise — injury prevention. [online] Melbourne, VIC: State Government of Victoria. c2010 [last updated 20 Aug 2010, accessed 26 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Exercise_injury_prevention
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Medline Plus. Sports injuries. [online] Bethseda, MD: National Library of Medicine. [last updated 23 Mar 2010, accessed 26 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sportsinjuries.html
Smartplay. Fact sheet: Warm Up / Stretching. [online] Kidman Park, SA: Sports Medicine Australia (SA Branch). [accessed 23 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.smasa.asn.au/Resources.aspx
Smartplay. Managing injuries. [online] Kidman Park, SA: Sports Medicine Australia (SA Branch). 2001 [last updated 14 Jun 2001, accessed 25 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.smasa.asn.au/Resources.aspxTop of page
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Last published 31 October 2010