We’re all busy. Between demanding weekday jobs and family commitments, there are just not enough hours in the day.
We want to stay healthy, so it’s sometimes the weekend or nothing. To make sure we don’t find ourselves in a pattern of working out or injured and idle, there are some common-sense practices sports medicine physicians want you to know about. Injuries like tendonitis, ligament sprains or muscle strains are largely preventable.
“I see many patients for overuse injuries who don’t prepare for bursts of physical activity,” says Dr. Thomas Best, an expert with the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute. “There are several things you can do to prevent becoming a statistic with an overuse or acute injury.”
Spread out the workout.
Come on … There must be a couple more hours here and there during the week you could use the muscles you plan to use for your weekend competition. Sure, you were hot stuff five, 10, or even 20 years ago and really, really want to stay active, but once a week doesn’t cut it. Your body won’t like you very much.
If you are doing 5Ks on the weekend, running after work a couple nights a week, even with a stroller or a frisky puppy, it will help your muscles maintain their conditioning and protect your joints from injury.
Remember to stretch.
Tight muscles don’t move the right way, especially those in the lower back, hamstrings, calves and glutes. However, stretching the right way is important to injury prevention. Stretching before an active sport should ideally be preceded by a period of warmup.
As we get older, warming up the right way is our best hedge against injury. Doing prolonged, static stretching before an active sport is won’t cut it. Your muscles need an active warm-up to let them stretch out gradually and make them less prone to injury. Try some gentle jogging, jump rope (yes, we said jump rope), high-stepping, and jumping jacks to get some blood flow to those muscles and get them ready for the demands of your workout.
Drink water BEFORE you get thirsty.
Even slight dehydration can affect muscular strength, speed, and agility. While it’s important to drink during a sporting event, you should be drinking ahead of the event for the whole day. A good rule of thumb is 6-8 ounces of your favorite fluid, water, Gatorade, 30 minutes before exercise and every 20-30 minutes during exercise.
Have the right equipment.
Protecting your body begins with good well-cushioned shoes, shin and elbow guards for sports like lacrosse and soccer, helmets and mouth guards for any contact sports. Shoes break down and lose their cushioning and ability to stabilize the foot over time. For a runner, that would mean changing shoes every 500 miles. Abnormal wear patterns may indicate you may need an orthotic insert to keep your feet in balance and prevent foot pain, ankle sprains, or knee injuries.
Realize your limitations.
We all like to win and feel like we’ve still got what it takes, but know when to slow down. Having fun is important, but the best athletes know when to take it down a notch. Better to listen to your bodies and be kind to them so you live to compete another day.
Mary Jo Blackwood, RN, MPH, is a contributing writer for the UMiami Health News Blog and is based in St. Louis, MO, and Colorado.