Exercise injuries – prevention and recovery
For some people, being injured provides the perfect excuse to swap their running shoes for slippers but for keen exercisers, an injury can be an incredibly frustrating experience.
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been suffering with a niggling knee injury which, according to my physio, is down to a problem with my patella tendon. I’ve been resting, doing my rehab exercises and putting in a lot of Pilates time and I’m really exasperated but I’ve learned the hard way that ignoring advice and pushing your body when it’s not ready is a sure-fire way to exacerbate your injury.
Many fitness fanatics return to training too quickly which can delay rehabilitation and even cause further problems. While the road to recovery can be long there are steps you can take to promote healing and get yourself back on track in the shortest possible time.
Injuries fall into two categories: acute injuries that occur suddenly such a sprain and chronic ones which develop gradually, often due to overuse. In the case of a chronic injury it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when and how it started. This type of injury often begins as a niggle which we ignore, hoping it will go away of its own accord.
Unfortunately, continuing to exercise without identifying the cause or treating the injury will only exacerbate it – case in point, my upper back injury which I ignored for several months until the pain radiated to my ribs and it became agonisingly painful to breathe.
If you find yourself with a chronic injury, you must rest to give the affected tissue time to recover. Ice will help to reduce swelling as will anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen. Gentle stretching and mobilisation exercises will promote healing while massage can help reduce scar tissue.
Incorrect technique, an uneven surface or a lack of proper warm up are among the most common causes of acute injuries.What you do in the period immediately afterwards will determine how well and how quickly you recover. In the most serious cases such as breaks and dislocations you must, of course, seek immediate medical help, but pulled muscles or sprained joints can usually be treated successfully with the RICE protocol – rest, ice, compression and elevation.
The amount of time needed to recover will depend on the severity of the injury. If it’s more serious or you have an long-term chronic issue, it’s best to seek professional help. My preference is for my miracle-working physio but there are plenty of other options such as chiropractors and osteopaths.
During the early stages of recovery, caution is key. In some cases you may not be able to do any exercise for a few days while in others it may be safe to embark on modified regime. If you are unable to perform your usual sport or activity, cross training is a good way to maintain fitness levels without causing further damage. If you can’t weight bear, for example, try swimming or cycling.
It is also important to include rehab work in your routine. Mobilisation, gentle stretching and strengthening will play a key role in your recovery. If you visit a sports injury professional they will most likely prescribe some exercises for rehabilitation.
Although there are no guarantees, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the risk of future injuries. Regardless of your activity, always warm up and cool down properly and ensure you incorporate rest and recovery sessions into your training programme.
It’s also important to address muscle imbalance – one of the most common and often overlooked causes of pain or injury. Factors such as poor posture, habitual movement patterns and overuse can result in some muscles become short and tight while the opposing ones become long and loose. Over time this creates poor joint alignment and faulty biomechanics.
A fitness professional will be able to assess your posture and movement patterns and devise a corrective programme. Pilates is particularly effective. Its precise, controlled movements help to realign joints, create more efficient neuromuscular pathways and strengthen deep, postural muscles.
Nutrition can play a key role in injury prevention. There are myriad supplements claiming miraculous properties but few are scientifically proven and some can be downright dangerous. It’s far better to eat a balanced diet with plenty of protein for muscle recovery and growth, as well as calcium for bone strength. Dehydrated joints and tissues are more vulnerable so stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.