1. Do warm ups and cool downs
Plan tailored warm up and cool down exercises and try not to forget them. The warm up is really important to make your muscles sufficiently flexible before vigorous activity. The length and type of warm up will depend on the activity you do and it’s advisable to consult a sports professional such as a personal trainer, sports coach or physiotherapist to find out what exercises would be best. In some sports, such as contact sports, short length stretches may be advised so as not to make the muscles over-flexible when contact occurs.
2. Stay warm
Warm muscles are more flexible and less prone to injury than cold muscles are. If you exercise outside, wrap up well in the colder months. This doesn’t necessarily mean getting sweaty; many warm but breathable items of clothing are available in sportswear shops and you can also get specialist items, such as knee warmers for cyclists, keeping your knees warm while your legs stay cool.
3. Keep an eye out for warning signs
Pains and aches can be normal after exercise, or can be a sign of a problem. Take note of any unusual or severe aches and pains and consult your doctor or a physiotherapist as soon as possible, and before resuming the activity at the same level. This may seem like a hassle but ultimately it could save you from severe injury in the future, which would be far more troublesome.
4. Be aware of any susceptibilities
If you may have low bone density or if you are hypermobile (very flexible), you may be more at risk of certain injuries and it’s worth bearing this in mind. It may be the case that you can include in your training programme some exercises that will improve your bone density, overall strength and resilience to injury, or build up weak muscles at risk of injury. A sports professional is best placed to advise you on this.
5. Wear sensible footwear and clothing
This may sound obvious, but many people don’t wear suitable shoes and clothing for their activity, and this can increase the risk of injury. Supportive footwear can help prevent injury to the feet, knees and back while appropriate clothing can prevent accidents, such as getting clothing trapped in equipment, or being too cold. If you have ‘flat feet’ (overpronation), special trainers or special insoles can help protect your feet, ankles and knees.
6. Use supports judiciously
Supports such as knee wraps can be useful but are best used on the advice of a professional. Don’t use them to pursue a sport despite an injury unless you have consulted an expert and are aware of possible ramifications.
7. Use R.I.C.E immediately after an injury
This stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. If you sustain an injury, rest it and use ice on it as soon as possible (don’t put ice directly on the skin: use a towel or use a bag of frozen peas etc). Apply the ice for 10-20 minutes and then remove it for a similar period of time before using the ice pack again. Elevation can be used to raise an injured body part, preferably above the level of the heart, to control swelling. Compression is sometimes used to control pain. Rest and ice are essential but you may wish to consult a professional about whether compression and elevation would help. Continue this for 24 to 48 hours, or as long as reasonably practicable. This procedure will prevent worsening of the injury and is very important. If it doesn’t cure it completely, consult a doctor or sports professional for further advice.
8. Return gradually to your former activity level after injury
If you try to return to former levels of activity too quickly you risk aggravating the injury or incurring a new one. Try to be patient and introduce activity gradually, noting any pain incurred. Do gentle stretches.