It’s great for your health and fitness to get involved with exercise and sport, but if you don’t warm up properly or train correctly, injuries can occur. Find out how you can reduce your risk of common musculoskeletal injuries.
With different sporting events taking place this summer, including the World Cup, it’s no wonder the number of people inspired to take up sports activities themselves is likely to increase.
But some attempts to improve fitness may come at a price. “Those who aren’t so accustomed to regular exercise are at risk of injury,” says Dr Alasdair R Wright, a GP and musculoskeletal medicine expert.
In fact, according to recent figures released from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), hospital accident and emergency departments have seen a rise in sports injury cases over the last year.
The peak times for injuries were found to be between 3pm and 5pm on Saturday afternoons and between 11am and 4pm on Sundays – suggesting people are making the most of getting out and about during their weekends, although perhaps not entirely safely.
Taking part in activities such as football, tennis or cycling are all beneficial forms of exercise, but a quick kick around with a ball on a beach, cycling on a bike path, or playing tennis in the park can result in unexpected musculoskeletal injuries if you’re not careful.
Injuries can occur due to not warming up properly, using the wrong equipment, using poor techniques, twisting, falling or moving awkwardly or doing too much too soon.
“A game of football on the beach or in the park can typically lead to knee and ankle injuries, such as twisted or sprained ankles,” explains Dr Wright.
There are many common sporting injuries such as strains, sprains, tendonitis and ligament damage.
“Untrained tennis players have a higher incidence of arm, knee and back injuries and common cycling injuries include knee, hip, back injuries and fractures from falls.” Adds Dr Wright.
If you feel pain during exercise, then stop immediately and assess the situation, rather than push on, advises Dr Wright. If you continue, this could cause a more serious injury.
Musculoskeletal injuries such as strains or sprains can be treated by self-care techniques, such as the RICE method – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. However, if you are unsure of the nature of your injury, or want to be on the safe side, seeing a physical therapist, sports physician or GP for an early assessment is advisable.
Getting an injury doesn’t necessarily mean giving up exercise completely. “It may be possible to continue with some other form of exercise to maintain your fitness while the injury heals,” advises Dr Wright. For example, swimming or other water based exercises may be suitable. If you’re in any doubt, check with your medical practitioner.
“Those who aren’t so accustomed to regular exercise are at risk of injury,” explains Dr Wright. “A gradual training approach is the best way to allow muscles, ligaments and tendons to adapt.”
Also read our article on tips on exercising for a healthy back. Or if you have a particular sport in mind, read our article on preventing summer sport injuries.
There are plenty of other practical tips you can adopt to prevent the risk of injuries from activities. Here are some more tips from Dr Wright on tactics to employ before, during and after exercising.
Plan your exercise in advance. Just a week or two of basic training and practice will significantly improve your performance and reduce your chance of injury. If you’re new to a sport or exercise, consider having lessons or joining a club to get you up to scratch on the basic techniques.
Warm up properly before starting. Even a few minutes of fast walking, jogging or light cycling will allow your muscles, tendons and ligaments to become warm and more flexible.
Start off gradually, building up the intensity and duration of each session as you get fitter. Limit yourself to short sessions, as tired muscles give less protection to your joints. Don’t train every day, as your body needs time to recover and develop. Three to four times a week is plenty, but once or twice a week is fine too.
Once you’ve achieved a basic level of fitness, try exercises that are specific to the activity you’re keen on. For example, short bursts of running and turning are great for football, upper limb and back core strengthening exercises are ideal for tennis, and leg endurance work can help cycling.
Good all-round exercises that can help strengthen your muscles and improve flexibility are core stability training or Pilates.
When you’ve finished your activity, keep warm. Perform gentle stretching exercises to wind down and loosen your body – this will help your recovery and reduce the chances of injury occurring next time around.
Finally, enjoy your activity! It’s a chance to develop new skills, improve your fitness and boost your wellbeing, so when you find something you enjoy, stick to it.