Friday, September 2, 2011

Injury Prevention Q&A

Injuries are something that will happen in your fitness journey. Knowing how to prevent them will minimize the frequency and the severity. Enjoy!

How do you prevent injury during exercise?

First and foremost you need to evaluate the activity you are about to engage in. For those of us that do not list "Professional Athlete" on our resumes, ask yourself the following questions:

  • "Have I ever done this type of activity before?"
  • "Does this type of exercise look potentially dangerous? i.e. risk of falling, fainting, etc."
  • "Do I have any previous injuries that I might need to be aware of throughout this upcoming workout?"

These are common sense questions we should ask ourselves before engaging in new physical activities. However, I find that most people fail to ask themselves these seemingly idiotic yet poignant questions. These same people can usually be grouped into one of 2 camps.

  • Chickens: The people in this tribe are afraid to do anything outside of the activities of normal daily living for fear that most exercise might be too strenuous and injury is certain the second they make a minuscule move in a physically active direction. The only injuries these people sustain are those from inhabiting a deconditioned body. You know the type: Aunt Jane who pulled her lower back putting on a pair of pantyhose 15 years ago and hasn't been able to lift a finger since? Ruling out pathological musculoskeletal disorders, Aunt Jane would probably be just fine with a regular cardiovascular exercise program coupled with conservative yet progressive strength training.

  • Rhinos: This group is full of those individuals who seem to have a death wish when it comes to exercise. There is no critical thinking prior to action. A conversation like this might be heard inside the subconscious mind of one of these individuals: "So what if I haven't done anything except sit behind my desk or steering wheel since I played football 30 years ago. I'm going to jump right into a high intensity program like Crazy Fad Workout of the Year and do 500 repetitions of random exercises because I will experience immediate gratification under the delusion that I can reverse 30 years of muscle atrophy in one week!"

I have seen a multitude of injuries over the years associated with many different types of group workout programs. At 360 Fitness, we stress the importance of personalized exercise regimens. Some of our clients may workout together in groups but, modifications are given for the individual to tailor the workout to his/her specific needs. Below are a few more tips for preventing injury during exercise.

  1. Start with baby steps. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a fit, well-maintained body! If you are starting a new activity, be conservative in your approach.
  2. Spend at least 8-10 minutes performing light aerobic exercises to prime your body for action and prevent injury. The warm-up is a vital step in the workout continuum.
  3. Listen to your body. If something hurts, back off or stop.
  4. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear. All shoes are not created equal. Doing a Zumba class in running shoes can set you up for knee injuries in the not- so- distant future.
  5. Ask for help! If you are exercising at a club or studio, ask a professional for help. He/She should be able to help you modify your activity.

Do you need to stretch before, afterwards or both?

There has been quite a bit of confusion for several years concerning stretching versus the warm-up for injury prevention. Much of this confusion comes from a misinterpretation of research on warming-up. Several studies found that warming-up by itself has no effect on range of motion, but that when the warm-up is followed by stretching there is an increase in range of motion. Many people misinterpreted this finding to mean that stretching before exercise prevents injuries, even though the clinical research suggests otherwise. A better interpretation is that warm-up prevents injury, whereas stretching has no effect on injury.

If injury prevention is the primary objective the evidence suggests that one should limit the stretching before exercise and increase the warm-up time.

How do you distinguish between just soreness and a real injury?

Moderate or dull aching felt bi-laterally in the muscle tissues following a work-out is typically synonymous with "normal" soreness. Whereas, pain limited to one side or located in or around a joint could indicate injury. After a particularly challenging session involving resistance training, it is not uncommon to experience soreness approximately 48 hours after the workout. This is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

Conversely, an injury will frequently cause pain immediately. Thus the injured person feels compelled to swiftly stop his/her activity. Again, that is not the case with all injuries, but is true for a large majority.

If one has been conservative in their approach and performed the PRICE protocol (detailed below) yet is still feeling pain or discomfort after several days, the services of a physician should be retained to investigate the origin of the pain.

What is the best treatment for a strained muscle?

Damage from a muscle strain can range from mild to severe as in the case of a tear. The treatment protocol is much the same for the most cases of muscle strain. Protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation (known as the PRICE formula) can help the injured tissues heal more quickly.

  • Protect the strained muscle from further injury.
  • Rest the strained muscle. Avoid the activities that caused the strain and other activities that are painful.
  • Ice the muscle area (20 minutes every hour while awake). Ice is a very effective anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving agent. Small ice packs, such as packages of frozen vegetables or water frozen in foam coffee cups, applied to the area can help decrease inflammation.
  • Compression can be a gently applied with an Ace or other elastic bandage, which can provide both support and decrease swelling. Do not wrap tightly.
  • Elevate the injured area to decrease swelling. Prop up a strained leg muscle while sitting, for example.

In addition, consuming a healthy diet chock full of lean protein can help speed recovery. Protein is the foundation for muscle growth and development. So, it stands to reason that it plays an integral role in tissue repair. Grab a high-quality, low-sugar whey protein shake one to two times per day to spur yourself quickly back into action.

If you have a strained muscle, how much time do you need to heal it? Can you continue to do some form of exercise?

Once diagnosed, rest for the affected body part until the pain is gone is the treatment of choice. An ambitious patient who takes on too much activity too soon will pay sorely for it (pardon the pun) by re-injuring the muscle and lengthening the recovery time.