Whether you’re a weekend warrior, serious athlete or exercising to enjoy good health, here are a few tips to protect against injuries.
Get a physical checkup
Identify your physical strengths and weaknesses by getting an annual, or pre-season, sports physical. Your healthcare providers will ensure that you are physically fit enough to participate in sport, help you determine which sports are most appropriate for you and let you know your exercise limits. Let your doctor know about any chronic diseases you have and get suggestions about how to safely modify activity to accommodate your condition. Always consult your doctor before undertaking any new activity if you have any concerns about your fitness or health. Are physicals required of all school athletes?
Warm up before and cool down after exercise
Many athletes are injured in the first few minutes of activity because they didn’t loosen up their muscles before jumping into the game. Tight muscles place more stress on your joints, tendons and bones, which makes you more prone to injury. Take 5-10 minutes to perform the appropriate stretching and conditioning exercises before and after training sessions, practice or games to reduce your risk of injury.
Increase activity gradually
Set goals that are realistic for your current level of fitness and injury history. Resist the temptation to go crazy about a new workout until your body has had time to adjust to the new level of activity. Taking it slowly and paying attention to how your body feels will pay off in the long run.
Consider hiring a personal trainer
Consider hiring a personal trainer to develop a conditioning program appropriate to your physical needs and the demands placed on your body by your chosen activity or sport. An experienced trainer will develop a personalized plan to help you reach your fitness and performance goals safely and efficiently.
Talk to your team’s athletic trainer
Certified athletic trainers help keep athletes safe and performing at their peak. They can diagnose and treat many musculoskeletal conditions, keep minor issues from becoming major ones, and get you back in the game quickly and safely.
Use good technique
Learn good technique to help prevent injuries.
Exercise in a safe environment
Check out the environment you will be playing in and the established safety guidelines specific to your sport. An experienced, trained coach who understands the rules of the game and enforces them will help create the safest possible conditions. If you’re out on the trails, always be aware of your surroundings and know what to do if you encounter a moose or bear.
Stay well hydrated
Even a bit of dehydration will reduce your exercise performance – don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Adjust your fluid intake according to the level of intensity of your workout and the environmental temperature. Avoid caffeine, carbonated or sugary drinks. General recommendations are to drink about a quart of water during the two hours prior to exercising and a cup of water every fifteen minutes during activity. You will need to add some simple carbohydrates (food or a sports drink) to replenish your glycogen stores if you exercise for more than 90 minutes.
Stop if you feel pain
Acute or sharp pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Do not play through acute pain because this is a surefire way of developing a severe or chronic injury through physical stress or overuse. Getting prompt treatment for an injury will speed up your recovery allowing you to return to the game in the shortest possible time. Similarly, take time out of your chosen sport if you feel unwell to allow your body to heal before you stress it with hard exercise.
Rest and recover
Take rest periods during practice, training and games to reduce your risk of injury (and hyperthermia). Allow time off between workouts so that your body can recover. A personal trainer or coach can advise you about the appropriate training schedule for your sport and build in rest days so you don’t over train. Consider having an “off season.”
Repeating the same activity day after day increases your risk of overuse injuries. Consider cross training with other sports, strength training or yoga to get a good workout without over-stressing specific muscle groups.
Use the right gear
Always wear the appropriate helmets, mouth guards, eye protection and protective pads and guards for your sport. Make sure that your safety equipment is in good working condition, that it fits you well and that you know how to wear correctly. Runners should change their shoes every 300-500 miles. Keep first aid kit (or personnel) close. Make sure that first aid is available at all times to avoid infection and excessive blood loss and to stabilize an injured player until medical treatment is obtained. These tips are not a substitute for a medical checkup or consultation with your healthcare provider. Always seek medical advice if you have any questions, concerns or an injury caused by exercise or sport.