Often these injuries are preventable, says Dr Beth Frates
Whether it’s knee pain, a sore elbow, or a pulled muscle, exercise-related injuries are common in people of all ages. They can derail your fitness efforts, sometimes setting you back for weeks or months.
Often these injuries are preventable, says Dr Beth Frates, clinical assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. Below she offers some tips that can help you stay healthy and keep you moving toward your fitness goals.
Select a low-impact activity
While no activity completely eliminates the risk of injury, it’s less likely you’ll get hurt doing a low-impact exercise that puts less strain on your joints. Walking, swimming, or indoor cycling are all good low-impact options, says Dr. Frates. The highest risk of injury comes from contact sports, such as football, ice hockey, basketball, or soccer. But injuries are also common in high-impact, non-contact sports, such as running.
Choose the right shoes
Blisters, foot pain, and joint injuries can sometimes stem from wearing the wrong type of footwear. It’s also easy to run into trouble if your footwear doesn’t fit properly. Try to match your shoes to your activity. If you’re going running, for example, choose sneakers that have extra cushioning and support. If you’re heading out for a hike, put on sturdy footwear that provides good traction and keeps your feet stable. Ankle sprains can result from poor form, missteps, footwear that doesn’t support the ankle, or exercising on uneven surfaces, says Dr. Frates. If you’re having foot pain, see your doctor. She may recommend custom orthotics or shoe inserts.
Start low, go slow
Start any new exercise program gradually. If you’re strength training, begin with a small amount of weight and add more as you get stronger. The same goes for a cardiovascular workout. “Add time, then add frequency, and then increase intensity slowly,” says Dr. Frates. Too much, too soon can do more harm than good.
Don’t jump right off the couch and into a high-intensity workout, says Dr. Frates. Give your body time to adjust by performing a short 5-minute warm-up. “Going from being sedentary to vigorous activity is the time you are at greatest risk not just for injury, but also for heart attack,” she says. At the end of an exercise session, also take five minutes to slowly cool down, she says.
Mix it up
Injuries can arise if you do the same activity all the time. For example, someone whose plays golf six days a week may be more prone to a type of tendinitis (inflammation or irritation of the tendons) called medial epicondylitis — popularly known as golfer’s elbow. The same is true of other activities, such as running and tennis, which often trigger repetitive strain injuries. Tennis players commonly develop another type of tendinitis called lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), and runners are prone to iliotibial band syndrome, which causes pain on the outside of the knee, says Dr. Frates. Instead, try a cross-training approach, she says. Play tennis, but also walk, swim, or do yoga. This will not only protect against repetitive strain injuries, but also benefit different parts of the body, which can help your overall fitness. “Working on all four types of exercise — aerobic, strength training, balance training, and flexibility — will help keep your body in good shape,” says Dr. Frates.
Check your form
Using an exercise machine or weights incorrectly can lead to muscle or joint problems. Keeping your body in the proper position when you’re on a machine or doing strength training can keep you injury-free. If you are starting a new activity at your local gym, check in with an on-site trainer to make sure you are using the equipment properly, says Frates. Also watch for proper form and body alignment in a mirror.
Staying well hydrated during exercise can keep you from experiencing dehydration-induced dizziness or unsteadiness that can trigger a fall. “Exercising when you are not well nourished is also not advised, as you will be weak and find it harder to keep your balance, which may lead to injury,” says Dr Frates. Protecting your overall health puts you in a better position to reap the benefits of your workout.