5 Tips to Avoid Sprains or Strains

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I’m not sure if there is anything more inspiring than watching the summer Olympic Games.   Even though most of us will enjoy the games by television, it’s TV that makes it possible for us to get up close and personal with the athletes and really feel their physical and emotional wins and losses.

The energy and intensity of the Olympians and their performances are so inspiring and with that comes the spark and energy to get fit and go for our personal best too. But sometimes we take on too much, too soon, too fast and with an activity that’s too new.  Here are some tips for you to use so that your cheering and fist pumping from the couch doesn’t turn into wincing or limping from pain.

Remember that your soft tissues are very vulnerable to the physical demand you put on them and specifically, your tendons, muscles and ligaments need proper attention when you are asking them to either do a new activity or even more of the what they are already used to.

Tip #1  Assess Your Current Status & Proceed Accordingly

Where are you at right now with your overall physical fitness?  And where are you at with the specific activity that you would like to engage in either for the first time or maybe you want to increase what you’re already doing?

Being realistic with where you are at before you make a change is truly the first step to avoid overuse injuries.  If this is a new activity for you, then take a look at what’s involved.  Is this an upper body sport like rock climbing, swimming or tennis and you’ve never developed your upper body strength before?  Are you going into a sport that requires new footwear such as skates, hiking boots or dance shoes with heels?

Engaging with new equipment or footwear and using body parts that you are not used to exercising requires a careful start, a break in period, time to just get acquainted with the feel of the motion or equipment and to proceed slowly.

Tip #2  Build Your Muscle Strength Both Generally and Specifically

Every sport requires muscular action in a specific pattern or motion.  It’s really wise to gain overall strength in a broad range of muscle groups as you take on new activity but so is it important to specifically train the muscle groups that are the key players in your chosen activity.  If you are going to take on or increase cycling, then spend extra time  strength training your legs.  If you are trying out tennis or windsurfing then work on strengthening your back and shoulders.  Core strengthening is important in all sports and a class, personal trainer or physical therapist could be very helpful to teach you the proper  exercises and form to do that.

You can get even more specific by strengthening the muscles and tendons in the exact motion that your sport requires.  This is done when you are progressively working on your sport but also by isolating that motion, stroke, kick, etc in the exact way it’s done during the sport.  Taking time to strengthen your soft tissues is absolutely KEY when it comes to avoiding sprains and strains from overuse!  And in a beginner, overuse happens very quickly!

Tip #3  Stretch and Warm Up!

Stretching before exercising is always a good idea!  This prepares the tissues for larger ranges of motion that most sports require.  Although many people see stretching as their warm up, warming up can also be distinct from stretching in that it allows you to increase your circulation by moving your entire body and actually raise your tissue temperature a bit.  Some people prefer to do a total body movement to warm up before they elongate and stretch their muscles and others prefer to stretch out first in preparation to warming up the total body.

Most important is to know what you  need and do BOTH components before you engage in your specific sport.  The 5 – 15 minutes it takes to stretch and warm up can save you weeks of overuse injury recovery.

Stretching again after a particularly long or vigorous exercise session can be very helpful since muscle groups tend to start building tension as they run out of fuel source during more intense exercise. Stretching again after this kind of exercise helps to restore normal muscle tension, length and flexibility.

Tip #4  Think Anti-inflammation

Overuse injuries of tendons, muscles and ligaments almost always involve inflammation of those tissues.  The first inkling that these tissues are being challenged usually comes in the form of some kind of discomfort.  Without therapeutic attention, this can progress to swelling, both internally in the tissue and externally, and then pain, heat, redness and more swelling which results in some kind of movement limitation.

To avoid the previous picture it’s great to know the variety of choices available for curbing inflammation from the very beginning.  Let’s start with ICE!  Ice is the simplest anti-inflammatory and should be used anywhere between 5 – 20 minutes and can be repeated as needed.  You might use a damp towel between the ice and your skin for really good penetration of cold or to avoid burning from super cold ice.  There are all kinds of nifty gel ice packs in many shapes and sizes, for kids and adults, just check your local drug store.

Other products that can be very helpful for calming inflammation and pain are creams with anti-inflammatory ingredients such as Topricin cream, a homeopathic formula that is quite popular.  I also like Arthrosoothe cream by Designs for Health.  This cream has white willow bark, capsicum and arnica that all combat inflammation. Using these products on sore areas after exercise or before bedtime can really help keep tissues calm and avoid the vicious cycle of pain and inflammation.  Taking warm baths that contain magnesium epsom salts can be a great pain reliever since it helps decrease the build up of acidic metabolic byproducts that tend to stay in the tissues.

Tip #5  Know Your Limits and Use Matching

I know you know what I mean when I say “know your limits”.  This is probably the hardest thing for people to do even though we know our exercise limits both intellectually and physically.  But if a little is fun, then a lot is ‘funner’!  We’ve all been there.  If you take heed of #1 above, work on your strength training and know your physical limit you will actually expand those limits slowly but surely and without injury!

I often talk about using the concept of matching when it comes to exercise.  This concept addresses the fact that we don’t always feel the same everyday, our energy can be up or down, we may have not slept enough or other stressors are draining us,  yet we want to keep exercising at the same intensity level at each session or maybe continuously build on each exercise session. You get it, right? Your energy or state of being and your exercise goal may not be a match, this is often when injuries and overuse happens.  If you start your session matching (respecting) where your energy is at, you’ll be surprised that you end up doing more in that workout than you thought you could and without an injury!

Whether it’s this summer’s Olympic Games or any other event that inspires you to take up a new sport, a past sport or maybe do more of what you already do, just remember to follow these tips so that your new level of exercise is injury free and enjoyable.  This way, you can progress your skill and stamina to your next level of ability, just like the top athletes have done many times over on their journey to become an Olympian!

About Sheila Wagner PT, CN, BCHN

Sheila’s cutting edge ability to uncover hidden source(s) of health issues when no one else has is the first piece to her step wise approach in solving your persistent health complaints.

+Sheila Wagner is the ultimate expert assisting people nationwide to finally fix their health through 1:1 consults, group programs, lectures and classes.

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