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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 injury free.

This article explains what you can do to help reduce your chances of getting injured.

Read below for more information about avoiding sports injuries.

Published by Bupa’s Health Information Team, September 2010.

About staying injury free

About staying injury free

Keeping active is fun but if you play a sport or do any physical activity, the chances are you’ll 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. It’s particularly important to stretch the muscles that you will be using during your exercise. 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 start to sweat but don’t feel tired.

Stretching


Stretching before and after exercise can improve your flexibility and prevent injury. Poor flexibility is partly to blame for many common sports injuries. Stretch your muscles gently and slowly, to the point of tension, and hold them there for at least 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch sensation rather than pain. When holding your stretch make sure you don't bounce – you should try to keep as still as you can.
Particular muscles that will benefit from stretching include:

  • calves
  • thighs (quadriceps)
  • hamstrings
  • back

Use the correct equipment


There are hundreds of different models of running shoes available and knowing what pair to buy can be daunting. The best running shoe is one that matches the shape of your feet. If you’re not sure whether you’re wearing the right running shoes 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 running shoes for you. If possible, take an old pair of running shoes with you so the adviser can check 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 a knock on the head with 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 mouthguards to groin protectors and shin pads. But just wearing the protection isn’t enough – you need to make sure that it fits correctly and that you don’t take extra risks.

Technique


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 practice. If you’re a member of 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 that you 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 to help maximise 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 stretching the muscles you have used while exercising. Some people think that stretching after exercise reduces muscle soreness the next day, but there is little evidence to support this. However, stretching does improve and maintain flexibility, which can help prevent injury.

Stay hydrated


When you exercise you can lose lots of 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.

Nutrition


Eating the right food after a workout will help you recover by refuelling your energy stores and providing protein to help rebuild and repair any damaged muscle tissue. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrate, your body will rely on fat and protein for energy when you’re exercising, you can become fatigued and this may lead to an injury.

Ice baths


Although it may sound strange, you may have heard of athletes sitting in ice baths after completing training or an event. This is known as cold water immersion and although it’s thought to help to promote recovery after exercise there is little evidence to support this.

Massage


Regular massage after exercise may sound very appealing and the good news is that it’s thought to help with recovery by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen around the body and also how much you can move your muscles. Sports massage therapists can identify any areas that need attention.

Rest


You may be encouraged 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 in your weekly training schedule to help your body recover from the exercise. Try exercising different body parts on consecutive days.

Action points


  • Include a warm up and cool down in your workout.
  • Stretch before and after exercise to increase flexibility and prevent injury.
  • Use protective equipment and learn the correct technique for your sport.
  • Stay hydrated and eat the correct foods before, during and after exercise.

Sources

Sources

  • Brukner P, Khan K. Clinical sports medicine. 2nd ed. McGraw Hill, 2005
  • Woods K, Bishop P, Jones E. Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Medicine 2007; 37(12):1089–99
  • How can I avoid a sports injury? Sports Medicine Information. www.nsmi.org.uk, accessed 14 July 2010
  • Bleakley CM, Davison GW. What is the biochemical and physiological rationale for using cold-water immersion in sports recovery? A systematic review. Br J Sports Med 2010; 44:179–87. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.065565

This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. This content was compiled by Bupa based on clinical information and practice current as at the stated date of publication. Content is likely to reflect clinical practice in a particular geographical region (as indicated by the sources cited) – accordingly, it may not reflect clinical practice in the reader’s country of habitation. This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. Photos and videos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

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