Stay active and injury free.

Exercise and sports are a great way to get and stay healthy. With proper preparation you can enjoy these activities and limit the risk of injury.

by Nashville General Hospital
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If you exercise or play sports, you know the health benefits of staying active. You probably also know the risks associated with these types of activities, including the potential for injury.

“Sports injuries happen to all level of athletes, from beginners to world champions,” says Dr. Eric Neff, an orthopedic surgeon. “No matter how well you train or prepare your body there is no way to prevent an injury from happening. However, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting hurt.”

Proper preparation is one of the keys to successfully staying active. This includes:

  • Wearing the appropriate equipment. Walking and running are two very similar activities. Yet the shoes you wear for walking may not be appropriate for jogging or running. No matter what sort of exercise or sport you choose, it is important to have the right equipment. This is especially true for contact sports where you need extra protection to prevent a concussion or broken bones.
  • Warming up and cooling down. Prior to starting your activity, take a few minutes to warm up. This can include stretching, calisthenics, light weight lifting or riding a bicycle. Following your activity, you will want to continue to be active, but at a slower pace, to allow your body to slowly transition back to resting. This can include the same activities you did to warm up or a continuation of your exercise routine at reduced intensity. A proper warm up and cool down will help your body prepare for the activity and speed up recovery when you are done.
  • Correct technique. Before engaging in any type of activity make certain you understand the basics of the sport or exercise. Not using the correct technique can lead to injury and take away from your enjoyment. For example, before hitting the golf course take a couple lessons from a friend or experienced golfer so you understand how to properly swing the club. The same is true for other sports like baseball, running and weight lifting, to name a few.

Once you start training for an activity, you may want to push yourself harder to get better. Overtraining, either too often, too frequently or too long, can also lead to injury warns Neff. After vigorous exercise, your body needs time to recover and heal. One of the ways to facilitate this is to alternate which muscles you exercise each day. Another is to limit your activity to four days a week and avoid participating more than two days in a row. This is especially important for activities that stress specific muscle groups like weight lifting.

Sports injuries fall into one of two categories:

  • Acute injuries happen suddenly and include things like a fall, twisted joint, sprain, broken bone or concussion.
  • Chronic injuries develop gradually over time and are usually related to overuse. Examples of chronic injuries include shin splints, stress fracture and cartilage damage in the shoulder, hip or knee from excessive wear. Sometimes, chronic injuries can weaken certain parts of the body and lead to an acute injury.

Your body will tell you when it is injured or needs a rest. Neff suggests, anytime you feel pain, have swelling or are not able to move a joint normally you should take a break and let your body heal. Pushing through an injury can aggravate it more and lead to additional damage, which may prevent you from participating in that activity in the future.

In addition to rest, elevating the injury with an ice pack or using compression may provide relief and help with the healing process. If the pain is severe or the swelling does not go away, you should schedule an appointment with a health professional for evaluation.

There are many benefits to exercise and participating in sports. You can minimize the risk of getting hurt with proper preparation. 

Before starting a new exercise program or participating in a sports activity, talk with your doctor to make sure you are physically ready to participate. Your doctor can also help you set exercise goals and develop a plan to achieve your wellness goals.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Neff, please call 615-341-4968.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should talk with your primary care physician or other qualified medical professionals regarding diagnosis and treatment of a health condition.