Are you someone who loves keeping active and fit? Are you planning to get more into physical training for your body? If you are about to launch into a new activity, be that boot camp, CrossFit or obstacle race intensive training you will want to know what you can do in order to get the most out of that activity, how to prevent injuries and, ultimately, how to be able to continue doing that activity safely and effectively.
One of the keys to maintaining a healthy exercise routine is to look after yourself and to prevent injuries. At Health Point Physiotherapy we strongly believe that prevention is always better than cure and encourage everyone who sees us to take preventative measures in order to reduce the likelihood of sustaining an injury while engaging in physical activities.
First let’s discuss why sports injuries happen fairly often. While there are numerous causes the more frequent ones include the following:
- Failing to warm up properly
- Stretching at the start rather than at the end of the sport/physical activity
- Incorrect technique
- Returning to the activity too soon after a previous injury
What are some common types of injuries? At the top of the list would be the following:
- Muscle strains
- Ligament sprains
- Tendon injuries
- Joint injuries
- Back and neck injuries
So what can you do in order to prevent injuries? Let’s review some tips.
Follow a proper stretching routine
A lot of people think that it’s good to stretch prior to starting the exercise. However modern research has shown that stretching while the muscles are still “cold” will significantly increase your risk of straining a muscle. It is much better to warm prior to exercise. A proper warm up is basically a low intensity version of the exercise you plan to engage in. For example, a warm up before a boot camp session can include walking lunges, leg swings or high steps.
Once you complete the session make sure you cool down by lowering the intensity. Once again, in the example of boot camp a good cool down will be finishing off with a brisk walk. You can then perform some stretches. Make sure that you hold each stretch rather than “bounce”. Only go to the first point of stretch, hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat each stretch approximately 3 times.
Make sure that your technique is correct
As physiotherapists we see time and time again patients present to us with sports injuries which happen as a consequence of incorrect technique. Therefore make sure when commencing a new activity you do so under the supervision of a qualified physiotherapist/fitness instructor.
Also a word of caution about engaging in new classes at the gym – such as CrossFit for example. While most classes are great for fitness they tend to be done in large groups. This means that your instructor will not be able to check every person’s technique. We therefore recommend finding a small group class whenever possible but if you do choose to attend a large class make sure you listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain/discomfort.
Ease into any new activity
If you are about to start a new activity make sure you do so slowly. Don’t try to keep up with others as they may have more experience. Also don’t forget that everyone’s fitness level is different so what might seem easy for one person might not be for you. So compete against yourself – not others.
Even if you are quite fit you may not necessarily have the experience required for the new activity, so it’s still good to ease into it. Set goals for yourself and try to work a little bit harder each time, just listen to your body and stop if you feel that it’s getting too much for you.
If you do sustain an injury make sure you get proper rehabilitation
This is perhaps one of the most important points. We all hate to be out of action and might be tempted to take shortcuts when it comes to rehab. However, if you return to your exercise before the injury has fully healed you are far more likely to sustain the same injury again, as well as new ones.
Initial recovery, depending on the severity of the injury, should involve some elements of the RICE protocol – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. The RICE protocol is typically followed for 48 hours.
Once the initial pain and inflammation are under control the focus will shift towards a specific exercise program. This is a crucial step in the recovery process. While the treatment methods mentioned above will help to reduce the symptoms the only way to maintain the results and reduce the risk of sustaining the same injury in the future is to do specific strengthening and range of motion exercises.
Besides doing exercises which are specific to the area you injured make sure that you work on the whole kinetic chain. For example if you have an Achilles tendon injury you will need to work on your pelvis, hips, knees and ankles. Why? Think of the following scenario: you have an old sports injury which has affected your hip. Now that you also have an injured Achilles tendon the weakness of the hip will exacerbate the problem as more load will be going through the ankle. Hence by strengthening the hip the additional load going through the ankle will be reduced. So make sure that your exercise program addresses not only the Achilles tendon but also your core, hips and knees. One of the best ways to strengthen your core muscles is to do Clinical Pilates – Pilates classes run by qualified physiotherapists as your instructors.
So for all of you who love being fit and active – follow the tips outlined above and you will reap much benefit from exercise.