Everyone knows that exercise is good for health, but unfortunately it’s not without risk. There are dozens of potential exercise injuries, ranging from mild to severe. The risk of an exercise injury increases with the intensity of the exercise. However, no matter the type or intensity of the exercise, there are several simple ways to reduce the risk of exercise injuries.

The prevention of exercise injuries is typically very simple, but it’s crucial to follow some common-sense guidelines to stay healthy.

In a study on the prevalence of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries in young female athletes, Dr. Pietro Tonino, orthopaedic surgeon and director of Sports Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, stressed the importance of pre-practice warm-ups, stating:

“Spending a few minutes on injury-prevention exercises at the beginning of practice can benefit an athlete for the rest of his or her life.”

Injury-prevention exercises are also referred to as warm-up and cool-down exercises. These exercises allow the body to prepare for activity by warming the muscles, increasing overall body temperature, and getting the cardiovascular system pumping a little faster. In some cases, doing proper warm-up and cool-down routines before and after exercise can reduce the risk of exercise injuries by as much as 30%-50%.

Warm-ups and cool-downs can sometimes be as simple as doing a less-intense version of exercise before doing the actual exercise, such as doing five minutes of slow walking before starting a longer, moderate-paced walk. Gentle stretches also work, although some experts now recommend dynamic, or moving, warm-ups. Alternately, static, or non-moving, stretches can be done after dynamic stretches or gentle aerobic exercise, when the muscles have had a chance to warm up.

Also, use common sense when exercising. Don’t go from a completely sedentary lifestyle to a three-mile jog overnight. It’s too much too soon and almost guarantees post-exercise pain. Stay hydrated and rest when needed. Make sure that exercises are performed properly, too, since executing some exercises incorrectly can risk injury.

Sometimes injuries happen, despite preparation and caution, but minor exercise injuries can often be treated at home.

If a serious injury occurs, go to the emergency room or see a physician immediately. Minor exercise injuries, though, can often be taken care of at home by utilizing the RICE method.

RICE stands for:

  • Rest: When a minor exercise injury occurs, rest the injured body part by avoiding using it or putting weight on it. This will allow the injury time to heal.
  • Ice: While resting the injured area, apply an ice pack, bag of crushed ice, or package of frozen peas. Always wrap the ice pack in cloth, like a washcloth or T-shirt, to prevent frostbite. A good rule of thumb is to apply cold for 15 minutes, and then to wait until the skin has warmed before applying ice again.
  • Compression: Some experts believe that compression can slow healing, since it limits swelling. However, it is often successful at reducing pain. The best way to compress an injury is to wrap the area with medical bandage, like an ACE bandage. If the wrap feels too tight or causes feelings of throbbing, remove it and re-wrap looser.
  • Elevation: Elevating an injury can reduce swelling and pain. It’s most effective when the injured area is raised above the heart. This can be done by propping the injured area on pillows until it’s resting at the proper height.

Once the pain and swelling have gone down, consider doing some gentle exercises with the injured body part. The application of heat can also be helpful after swelling has subsided. Additionally, gentle massage can be highly beneficial, but make sure that the massage therapist is aware that there’s been a recent injury and has experience dealing with that type of injury. Wait until you’ve been pain-free for at least a week before easing into your normal exercise routine again.

If the pain or swelling aren’t reduced after 48 hours, seek professional help. Also, keep in mind the differences between pain and soreness. Pain is more acute and persistent and may be indicative of an injury that requires medical attention, while soreness is usually an ache that subsides after a couple of days. If uncertain or worried about whether an injury needs medical attention, always err on the side of caution and get it checked out by a physician.

For lots of exercise injuries, the best way to recover fully is to enlist the help of a physical therapist.

As stated in the Harvard Men’s Health Watch:

“You can manage many injuries yourself, but don’t be stubborn. If you have a major injury — or if your nagging woes don’t clear up — get help.”

Injuries are one of the most common sources of chronic pain. Sometimes the injury heals incorrectly, sometimes the pain-conducting nerves get confused, or sometimes the injury causes a change in biomechanics – like walking lopsided to favor a sore leg. Whatever the case, seeing a physical therapist after sustaining an exercise injury can seriously reduce the likelihood of developing a chronic pain condition.

This can be especially true with lower extremity injuries, which include injuries to the hips, knees, ankles, and feet. The lower extremities carry a lot of weight. The joints are complex and vulnerable to injury and degeneration. An injury to the lower extremities, if not given the correct attention, can quickly cause whole-body pain. For example, if a sore knee causes a limp, it can lead to a lopsided gait, which can ultimately lead to back issues. For this reason, it’s especially important to see a physical therapist if an exercise injury is healing slowly or has caused lasting issues.

Although it’s possible to do physical therapy without a doctor’s referral, going through a physician and getting a referral has several benefits. First and foremost, many insurance companies won’t pay without a physician’s referral. Additionally, physical therapists have lots of different specialties, so getting a referral from a physician is an excellent way to make sure that that therapist is experienced with your specific type of exercise injury.

There are several ways that physical therapy can be helpful after an exercise injury. The therapist can provide many different ways to help rebuild strength and flexibility after an injury as well as evaluate overall strength and identify areas of the body that are weak or prone to injury. He or she can evaluate biomechanics of activities like exercising, walking, lifting, or even sleeping.

Doing activities incorrectly can sometimes cause or worsen pain and injuries. For example, pitchers are prone to elbow injuries if they don’t use their legs properly while throwing. Sometimes even simple corrections to exercise routines or everyday activities can have a big impact, but these simple corrections aren’t clear without the help of a physical therapist.

Have you ever experienced an exercise injury?

Image by andruiXphoto via Flickr

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