Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind, but it can cause two kinds of injuries. You’ll notice major trauma like a sprained ankle or dislocated shoulder immediately, but other damage builds up over time.
Stiff legs or sore elbows could be overuse injuries that usually come from working out too often or too intensely. You may not see any visible signs, but your muscles and skeleton still need healing.
Try these tips that will help you stay active and speed up your recovery when you do suffer an injury.
Preventing Overuse Injuries:
- Schedule rest time. Your body grows stronger when you give it adequate time to heal in between workouts. Overuse injuries are a strong message that you need to take a break.
- Vary your workouts. Repetitive movements put more stress on your body because you keep using the same parts in the same ways. Try alternating exercises. If you’re a parent, keep in mind that children can be especially high risk if they over-specialize in one sport while their bodies are still developing.
- Change your equipment. Do your running shoes fit? Properly sized gear appropriate for your sport can help keep you safe.
- Consult a trainer. Precise alignment is another consideration. Study videos or work with a specialist who can teach you how to squat or pitch a softball correctly.
- Build up gradually. Avoid trying to do too much too soon. Adding 10% a week to your strength exercises, distance, or speed works for most adults.
- Warm up. Gentle movements prepare your body and mind for what’s ahead. Roll your shoulders and walk around for a few minutes before doing more challenging activities.
- Stretch your muscles. Complete your workouts by training for flexibility. Target your stiff spots and hold each stretch for a few minutes.
- Listen to your body. Structural issues or medical conditions can make overuse injuries more likely. Take extra care if you have flat feet or you tore your rotator cuff last winter when you were shoveling snow. Stop doing any activity that causes pain.
Treating Overuse Injuries:
- Take a break. Proper rest is essential for both prevention and treatment of injuries. It’s the first step in the standard RICE formula that you may have heard of. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Apply ice. Ice packs are most helpful when used early and often. During the first couple of days after an injury, they can dramatically reduce swelling and discomfort. To protect your skin, use a covered ice pack or wrap a bag of frozen peas in a towel.
- Wrap it up. Elastic bandages also cut down on swelling. Limit their use to no more than 2 days in order to restore the normal blood flow necessary for healing.
- Elevate the area. Try to keep your hurt arm or leg at or above the level of your heart. Prop them up on a pillow while you’re watching TV or working.
- Relieve pain. Anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen may help. They’re available over-the-counter or in stronger prescription form. Follow the directions on the label and talk with your doctor if your symptoms last for more than 10 days.
- See your physician. Your doctor can recommend prevention and treatment strategies appropriate for your individual body. Talk with your health care professionals if home remedies aren’t working or you have any concerns.
Most overuse injuries can be prevented if you know the signs and take action promptly. Stay fit and active by giving your body the rest it needs and using proper form when you work out.