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Water Cooler: How to avoid and treat common sports injuries

Proper stretching can prevent injuries from exercise or sports activities.
Proper stretching can prevent injuries from exercise or sports activities.

Anyone can get a sports injury, whether they are new to exercise or consider themselves a seasoned athlete. Here are some tips for understanding what causes them, how to prevent sports injuries in the future, and how to treat them when they occur.

Sports injuries are classified as any type of injury resulting from exercise, sports or other athletic activities. They often arise from overuse, a direct impact or some application of force that the body is unable to withstand.

Sports injuries fall into two categories, acute and chronic. Acute injuries happen immediately, such as a sprain, strain, bruise or break. Chronic injuries arise from repeated overuse of certain joints or muscle groups, such as a stress fracture, tendon injuries, runner’s knee or tennis elbow. There is sometimes overlap between sports injuries and occupational injuries. For example, jobs that require long hours of typing and mousing can cause tennis elbow (despite the misleading name).

There are many ways to prevent sports and overuse injuries. Developing a well-rounded fitness plan is a great way to keep the whole body strong and flexible. Maintaining muscle, tendon and ligament strength and flexibility makes the body more resilient against injury. To avoid overuse, try to alternate exercises so that various areas of the body and muscle groups have a chance to rest and heal between workouts.

It is also important to warm up and cool down before physical activity. A few minutes of light exercise such as jumping jacks, brisk walking, or light jogging can help circulate blood through the body, ensuring that your muscles have plenty of oxygen. Warming up gradually also reduces stress on the heart before jumping into more strenuous exercise.

Light exercise and stretching is a great way to cool down and help your body ease into a restful state. Cool downs are important because a sudden stop in physical activity can be jarring for the circulatory system. Walking, yoga and static stretching are great for cooling down. Don’t forget to drink water and replenish lost fluids as well.

If you get an injury despite your best preventive efforts, the RICE method is widely recommended for treatment. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. This method is aimed at controlling the initial inflammation following the injury in order to promote healing as soon as possible.

To rest, stop physical activity immediately after the injury and get as much rest as possible for the first 48 hours. Avoid putting weight or strain on the injured area.

To ice the injury, wrap an ice pack in some light fabric and apply it to the injured area for periods of 15-20 minutes every few hours. This is most effective if done for the first 24-48 hours after the injury.

Compression can be created by wrapping the injured area in medical bandaging or using a support made for that area. Compression helps prevent excessive swelling, but be sure that the wrapping is not so tight it cuts off blood flow. Loosen the wrapping if the area below it feels cold, numb or turns blue.

Elevate the injured area by raising it above the heart. This too reduces swelling, as well as throbbing and some pain.

If pain continues, and especially if it feels dull, this is likely an indication of ongoing injury or lack of proper healing. Continued use of an injured body part will only aggravate it further and turn it into a chronic injury.

It is always best to see a medical professional after an injury, especially if you aren’t sure how severe it is. A physical therapist can show you stretches and recovery exercises to help fully heal the injury.

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