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Avoiding sports injuries

Have you ever had an injury that has prevented you from playing sport? If so, you’re probably only too familiar with the length of time that it can take to recover. Sports injuries can affect not only professional athletes but anyone who takes part in exercise. The good news is that there are a number of steps you can take to stay free from injury.

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  • Staying injury free Staying injury free

    Keeping active is fun and important for staying healthy but if you play a sport or do any physical activity, it’s possible that you will get injured at some point. Some of the ways that you can prevent injury are described below.

    Warm up

    Warming up before you start exercise prepares your body, not only physically but also mentally. You may feel that you don’t have time to warm up before exercise but there are a number of benefits, such as:

    • increased blood flow and oxygen to your muscles
    • increased flexibility (if you stretch)
    • increased relaxation and concentration

    Your warm up should include different types of exercises, such as jogging, gentle stretching and some resistance work. The length of your warm up and how intense it is will depend on the level of exercise that you’re going to do. Generally, it should last for at least 15 minutes, during which time you should start to sweat but not feel tired.

    Stretching

    There is little evidence to show whether or not stretching before or after exercise can prevent injury. However, it may be that poor flexibility is partly to blame for many common sports injuries, so it’s a good idea to move your muscles through their full range of motion during your warm up and stretch gently – make sure that you don't bounce when stretching. Concentrate on the muscles you will be using – for example, if you’re going running, focus on the muscles in your thighs (quadriceps and hamstrings) and calves.

    Properly kitted out?

    There are hundreds of different models of trainers available and knowing what pair to buy can be challenging. The best trainer is one that matches the shape of your feet. If you’re not sure whether you’re wearing the most appropriate trainers for you, it's a good idea to take them along to a specialist sports shop and ask for advice. Some shops have experienced advisers who can watch you run and recommend suitable trainers for you. If possible, take an old pair of trainers with you so the adviser can look at how they have been worn down.

    If your activity of choice means you’re more likely to get injured, whether it’s falling off your bike or getting knocked on the head by a ball, you will need to wear protective equipment. There is a huge range of products available that can protect almost any part of your body – from helmets and mouth guards to groin protectors and shin pads. Make sure that any protection you wear fits correctly and remember that you can still get injured when you’re wearing it, so don’t take unnecessary risks.

    Get the skills

    There’s no point putting great effort into exercise if you have a poor technique as it’s an almost sure-fire way of ending up injured. Try to learn the right skills when you first take up a new sport so that you get into good habits. If you go to a gym, you could speak to a member of staff who can show you how to use the equipment safely and effectively. This is especially important if you use weights.

    Know your limit

    When you’re exercising, it’s important to listen to your body and know when to stop. If you haven’t exercised for a while, start slowly and gradually increase how much you do. This will help to prevent you from pulling or straining your muscles.

    Cool down

    Recovery is an essential part of any training programme and it’s important for helping to maximise your performance and reduce your risk of injury.

    After exercising, try spending five to 15 minutes cooling down. This involves light activity, such as walking, and gentle stretching. Some people think that stretching after exercise reduces muscle soreness the next day, but there is little evidence to support this. There also isn’t enough evidence to show whether stretching can prevent injury but it may help to maintain your flexibility.

    Hydration

    When you exercise you lose fluid, especially if you’re exercising in a hot environment. Making sure you replace the fluids you have lost during exercise is an important part of recovery. Unless you’re exercising for more than an hour, plain water is fine and you don’t need to have special sports drinks.

    Nutrition

    Eating the right food before and after exercising will assist your recovery by refuelling your energy stores – mainly through carbohydrates – and helping to rebuild and repair any damaged muscle tissue – you need protein for this.

    If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, your body will rely on fat and protein for energy when you’re exercising. If this happens, you can become fatigued and this will not only affect your ability to exercise but may also lead to an injury.

    Unless you’re exercising for long periods of time or training for a strenuous event, such as a marathon, you probably won’t need to increase how much you eat. This is especially true if you’re trying to lose excess weight through exercising.

    Ice baths

    Although it may sound strange, you may have heard of athletes sitting in ice baths after training or an event – this is known as cold water immersion. Some people find it helps them to recover after exercise but there is little evidence to support this.

    Massage

    Regular massage after exercise may sound very appealing and the good news is that it could help with recovery. This may be because it increases the flow of blood and oxygen around your body and improves the range of motion of your muscles. However, there is evidence to suggest that any benefit offered by massage is only psychological and it may not have any physical effect.

    Rest

    You may feel that you want to exercise every day, especially if you’re training for a sporting event or trying to lose weight. However, it’s important that you have rest days to help your body recover from the exercise and become stronger. You could also try varying the exercise you do on consecutive days to work different parts of your body in a variety of ways – why not try doing a yoga class the day after you have been for a run.

    Bupa On Demand: Physiotherapy

    Would you like to see a Bupa physiotherapist? You can book an appointment to see them at a Bupa Centre.

  • Action points Action points

    • Include a warm up and cool down in your workout.
    • Gently stretch before and after exercise to maintain flexibility.
    • Use protective equipment if necessary and learn the correct technique for your sport.
    • Stay hydrated and eat the appropriate foods before, during and after exercise.
  • Physiotherapy

    At our Bupa Health Centres, we offer self-pay health services for a wide range of conditions, including physiotherapy.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • How can I avoid a sports injury? Sports Medicine Information. www.nsmi.org.uk, published 2009
    • Fit to compete. Great Run. www.greatrun.org, accessed 16 August 2012
    • Tomporowski PD. Effects of acute bouts of exercise on cognition. Acta Psychol (Amst) 2003; 112(3):297–324. doi:10.1016/S0001–6918(02)00134–8
    • Thacker SB, Gilchrist J, Stroup DF, et al. The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004; 36(3):371–78. www.acsm.org
    • Stretching. TeensHealth. www.kidshealth.org, published April 2009
    • Personal communication, Dr Charles Pedlar, Academic Director, St Mary’s University College, London, October 2012
    • Exercise – injury prevention. Better Health Channel. www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au, published September 2011
    • Sports nutrition. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. www.orthoinfo.aaos.org, published August 2007
    • Energy intake and expenditure. British Nutrition Foundation. www.nutrition.org.uk, published July 2009
    • Hemmings B, Smith M, Graydon J, et al. Effects of massage on physiological restoration, perceived recovery, and repeated sports performance. Br J Sports Med 2000; 34:109–14. doi:10.1136/bjsm.34.2.109
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