As we march into a new year, maybe you'll be starting a new exercise regimen or joining a basketball league - you want to be active. This is a good thing! In almost all circumstances, doctors prefer for people to lead active, healthy lifestyles. Exercise does so many good things for your body (build muscle mass, losing excess weight, increases metabolism, on and on…) that it can really make a huge impact on a person physically and psychologically.
But - you can get hurt if you don't take the proper precautions. Pulled muscles, strains, and sprains.
As a slight disclaimer - injuries are almost always at least a slight possibility with exercise. Sometimes bad luck can creep in. You step on a rock, slip on wet patch, or someone comes barreling down for a dunk attempt that you end up on the wrong side of. There's risk with just about everything. But don't let this deter you - we're talking here about minimizing risk of injury.
There's a saying - and it's true - that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That is, do the little things to prepare yourself so that you don't get hurt in the first place.
None of us are as young as we used to be. It's a fact. When you were 8 years old, it was probably okay to just burst out into a full out sprint from the word 'go'. Now… not so much. Warm up with stretching and lighter movements to get you into the flow. This is also a good 'test' time - if something continues to hurt during warming up (beyond the initial loosening up), it probably isn't a good idea to keep going.
Use good technique when stretching. If you can't touch your toes, just go down as far as you can. Compromising and overtly bending your knees to get there doesn't do you any good.
Particularly for you weekend warrior sports participants, a good way to get hurt is to try to do things that you probably can't do. I'm not saying you couldn't do them at one time… back in high school… but it has been awhile.
In basketball or football, if you haven't practiced making a change of direction move (a 'cut') - the first play of the game is not the time to break out your full speed, Trent Richardson left-to-right cut. That's a real good way to hurt yourself.
When you practice, you're developing muscle memory so that your body will be able to coordinate an efficient movement to allow you to do what you want to do. But without the practice, your body won't have that coordination figured out just right, and you are likely to be inefficient - and possibly overuse a muscle group. And that would be where a lot of the strains, pulls, and sprains come from.
Water is essential. (Powerade/Gatorade for the most part is fine, too.) A dehydrated body does not function as it is supposed to, as your mind and body begin to miscommunicate with each other when you are low on fluids. This causes further inefficiency in your body.
Muscles in particular will react, resulting in painful cramps. Bad ones can put you down real quick. And when you get a cramp it is good to try to stretch it out and hydrate… if you had hydrated (and stretched) prior and as you were exercising - you may have been able to avoid the cramp all together.
As I said with stretching - those of you who lift weights or are new to the weightlifting scene… do it right, DON'T just do it heavy.
Poor form in weightlifting is almost guaranteed to injure you in some form. Many, many people end up with strained lower backs as they don't use the proper techniques and put too much stress on their lower lumbar spine.
If you are beginning weightlifting this year (or if you have a child starting out), make sure you receive proper coaching and are supervised until you and the coach are confident you can continue on a more independent basis.
It is rarely (if ever) a good idea to workout with weights alone. Do your best to always have a partner in case of an accident or emergency.
Don't Overdo It!
Know your limits. I promise you - no one is judging. When engaging in a new exercise regimen or activity, it is wise to stop by your primary physician's office and let them know what you are up to. They will know you well enough to know if you're getting into anything that may be a bit much.
What's more, your doctor can probably provide you with a few exercise techniques that could put you on the path to eventually doing what you had set out to do initially. It may take a little longer, but at least you won't get hurt along the way, delaying you even more.
Address the Pain!
After your activity, cool down a bit. If you are experiencing pain, ice/heat and elevate those sore or painful areas. Your body will thank you in the morning.
And be sure that you don't try to get back out there too quick. A little soreness is probably going to happen in the beginning, but consistent pain and overly sore areas need to be rested. Don't return to the sport/activity until you are reaching full range of motion without pain.
I applaud those of you looking to get more active in 2013. As I said - it's a good thing. Just remember that staying healthy is key to maintaining this lifestyle change. Do the little things that will make the difference and keep you on move.