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If you’ve decided to take your heart health into your own hands with a new exercise program, that’s a great start. But it’s important to be aware of the common injuries that could happen that could put you off your game – and how to avoid them.

Three groups of injuries

There are three groups of injuries: overuse, acute and chronic.

Overuse injuries: These occur from repetitive micro traumas to tissue which eventually lead to the tissue starting to fail. These can happen because of bad exercise selection, bad technique or inadequate rest periods between training sessions.

Acute injuries: These are sudden onset injuries, usually with instant pain, swelling and disability.

Chronic injuries: These come on very slowly, gradually ramping up in pain and disability, and can be episodic. Often the origin of the injury cannot be recalled.

In prepa­ra­tion for avoid­ing injuries, there are a few key points to keep in mind: joint mobil­i­ty, joint sta­bil­i­ty, rest peri­ods and most impor­tant­ly, warm­ing up.

This cannot be stressed enough. A good warm-up is pretty much the only thing that has been proven to prevent injuries.

Types of injuries

Sprains: These are injuries to ligaments. Grade one sprains can often be self-treated, but for more severe sprains you should seek professional care.

Strains: These are usually to muscles and tendons. Sometimes this might be referred to as a pulled muscle.

Tendonitis: This is the overuse of a tendon which may cause swelling, inflammation and pain, and is often due to bad technique.

What’s the PRICE?

The go-to for treating any acute injury is the PRICE protocol: Protect Rest Ice Compression Elevation.

Protection: Small injuries can be wrapped in a bandage or simple splint.

Rest: Injured areas need time to rest and recover.

Ice: This is a great anti-inflammatory, especially for the first hours to days after an injury. It reduces swelling and pain, and speeds up healing. Best results are achieved by applying ice for 10–15 minutes every hour for the first 4 hours, and then 10–15 minutes every few hours for the next 2 to 3 days.

Compression: Pressure over the area will reduce swelling. Usually a simple elastic bandage that will still allow some movement of the tissue underneath is best. When doing this, be very careful not to cut off your circulation.

Elevation: This will allow gravity to drain excess fluid from inflammation away from the tissue, which will decrease pain, inflammation and swelling.

Some common injuries

Sprained ankle

Running, or even walking, outside on uneven terrain can lead to ankle sprains. But keep in mind that you also need to take care on a treadmill, especially when getting on and off, and stay attentive so you don’t step on the edge while running. When running outdoors, make sure you try to stay on even terrain or the curb, and avoid cambered roads. Also beware of sudden direction changes that occur playing some sports.

Step one for treating a sprained ankle is the PRICE protocol. But some particular warning signs that you may need to see a professional are: inability to stand on that foot because of pain, or immediate swelling and tenderness on either one of the bony lumps (medial and lateral malleoli) that stick out on either side of your ankle.

Elbow tendon injuries

Most commonly known as tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, this is caused by excessive tension from either your forearm extensor muscles or forearm flexor muscles respectively. This pulling is directed up to where the tendon attaches at your elbow and causes pain and swelling. This is a relatively common overuse injury often ignored as a niggle that will go away, but it has the potential to become a chronic debilitating problem.

Best management for this is to rest, ice regularly, stretch the muscles gently and self-massage, wear a tennis elbow strap when doing activities that seem to aggravate it, and address your grip if you are playing a sport that requires you to use equipment such as a racquet or club. This is also a good candidate for a visit to your physiotherapist or chiropractor, as early management is key in this injury.

Lower back strain

This is one of the most common injuries, especially in those with previous experience lifting heavy weights but who have taken a break, as they expect their form and strength to be as it was in the past. These injuries are usually due to poor core activation, bad technique and weights that are too heavy. Correct technique lifting weights is extremely important, and for this reason no matter what your previous level of experience, try to have at least one session with a professional trainer to review form in all these movements. Another way to ease into it is to start with low to no weight to begin with, until you feel like you can maintain form appropriately.

As with other injuries, as soon as you feel any “tweak”, stop the exercise and do a gentle cool down and some stretches. Often the actual extent of the injury is only felt once the muscles have cooled. Ice and rest from the aggravating activity, but when it comes to backs, movement is key. Keep walking around and moving, and try not to lie down for too long as this can delay recovery and lead to muscles cramping up. See your chiropractor or physiotherapist, especially if symptoms do not abate within 2 to 3 days.

Shoulder injuries

There are two types of muscle groups in the body when it comes to moving joints: local muscles which stabilise the joints through their range of motion, and global muscles which are the big movers. In the shoulder, the local stabilisers are known as the rotator cuff. These are often neglected when one starts exercising. It is important to do small stabilising exercises for the rotator cuff so that it can support the shoulder joint appropriately when you start lifting heavier weights.

About the author

Dr Susan Tyfield

Susan Tyfield is an evidence-based chiropractor who utilises a wide range of treatment techniques and rehabilitation in her sessions. She has been practicing for over 13 years, having achieved board certification both in South Africa, where she had her own private practice, and in Australia, where she has practiced since 2011. She has special interests in sports and performing arts healthcare as well as chronic pain management. She practices out of Waterloo and Darlinghurst, Sydney NSW.

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