Written by Dr. Kaytlyn Wells, PT, DPT

Exercise is vital for long-term healthy living but can come with some unwanted side effects like injuries. However, with the right precautions, we can avoid a lot of these costly and timely injuries. Most people believe that injuries occur while doing CrossFit, powerlifting, or some insane form of exercise, but that’s not the case. Injuries can occur with any type of activity, whether we are lifting heavy weights or just starting on a walking program, and can affect anyone from elite athletes to weekend warriors.

Injuries can occur when our bodies are unable to handle the load or stress placed upon them. Whether we are doing too much exercise at one time, or have not allowed our bodies the time to properly adapt to the training we are doing. This happens whether you are a newbie or a seasoned vet in the exercise world.

It doesn’t take much convincing to understand why we should prevent injuries (the cost, the inconvenience, etc.), but the biggest consideration is that they CAN be prevented. Activity can be risky, but what is even riskier are the consequences of NOT exercising and staying healthy.

Let’s dive into some ways to prevent injuries, to keep you exercising and staying healthy.

1. Check With Your Doctor And Get Routine Physicals

Before jumping into any exercise program/routine, you need physician clearance. This usually involves a physical. From there, it is a good idea to get routine physicals to ensure that you STAY healthy and ready for exercise. It might also be a good time to work with a physical therapist or rehab specialist if you have had any recent injuries.

2. Hire A Professional

It might be scary to invest in your health, especially if it is a new hobby or interest. However, it is vital to hire someone reputable, match what you are looking for, and ensures you are staying safe. These professionals might be experts in fitness, nutrition, or an area in which we are trying to improve. For example, if someone wants to get better at running, they might hire a fitness professional who specializes in running to make sure the workload matches the skill level. This is important to make sure that the exercises are performed safely, both from a quantity and quality standpoint; both of which are crucial to keeping us safe. Research FIRST and look at reviews. These individuals should also help you plan and prepare for what is coming. Get a game plan, stick to it, and trust the process.

3. Set Realistic Goals

When we decide to jump into an exercise program/routine, we are SUPER excited to get going, right? Often, we get a little overzealous and want to accomplish all our goals in one day. However, this can cause problems by placing stress on the tissues in our bodies that they just aren’t ready for. This can lead to injuries which can set us back from our goals. The biggest thing here is to make sure we take our time. That cliché saying of, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” also applies with exercise. When we rush progress or push too hard too quickly, this can lead to injuries. It is possible to improve drastically by doing small chunks of exercise frequently, instead of doing one large bout of exercise. By setting attainable goals, you can progressively improve instead of trying to accomplish everything on day one.

4. Warm Up And Cool Down

One way to reduce the risk of injury is to make sure we warm-up and cool down. This is a common statement in the exercise world, but it’s vital. By warming up, it increases our body temperature, processes, increases blood flow to muscles and increases the oxygen in our tissues. In doing this, we are giving our bodies the nutrients and supplies it needs to safely exercise and to reduce risk of injury. Cool-downs are also just as important. It decreases our risk of blood pooling, and reverses the body processes that have been increased during our workout back down to our “baseline”.

5. Listen To Your Body

There is a common expression in the fitness world, “No pain, no gain,” but this is not true. We can improve each day without pushing THROUGH our injuries. Most injuries are not ones you need to push through the pain, and at the end of the day, it does not get you any further ahead. It might just set you back. There is a difference between being uncomfortable and being in pain, and acknowledging that is key. If an injury does occur, it is important to reduce the amount of work we are doing, BUT also keep moving. There is a lot of research that shows that it is important to continue to do light activity, instead of just resting completely. This is an important ingredient in recovering from an injury, to prevent de-training effects, AND to give the tissue some good input to help it heal.

6. Proper Loading

People assume that injuries result from an “over-loading,” or “over-working” problem, but the opposite can also be true. Under-loading an area can also be a risk for injury. As people have under-loaded tissues, then jump into strenuous exercise, it can be a big reason why people get injured. Finding that fine line is important and why finding a professional to help is important.

7. Keep Outside Factors In Check

A lot of our improvement comes from OUTSIDE of exercise. While our bodies are doing the work, we must have other things in check to supplement that exercise and to be able to recover and continue improving. These areas are nutrition, water intake, sleep, stress, and overall rest.

Nutrition: We must take in appropriate amounts of food to recover from the exercise we are doing. As we exercise, our muscles break down and the foods we eat build them back up. If we do not take in appropriate nutrition over time, we can increase our risk of injury.

Water Intake: We all know the importance of water intake. It improves overall health, but in short, it helps to regulate all bodily processes to allow us to recover from our workouts.

Sleep/Rest: Getting adequate sleep allows our body to focus on repairs to our musculoskeletal system. Fullagar et. al. express a positive correlation between quantity and quality of sleep causing increases in performance and recovery. This can affect our ability to adapt and handle stressors such as exercise and allows us to improve our exercise capacity. If we do not prioritize this, our bodies can get repeatedly worn down.

Stress: This is a big one that gets overlooked. If our lives are full of “stress” whether it comes from exercise-related stress on our bodies, not giving our bodies the nutrients it needs, not sleeping, personal/work stress, it makes it harder for our bodies to recover fully after exercise which leads to an increased risk of injury.

All the above will not necessarily prevent you from getting an injury, but it does help to reduce the risk of injury. Reducing the risk of injury by just 1% can be crucial and can keep us exercising longer while living a healthy life for years to come.

About the author: Dr. Kaytlyn Wells is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and specializes in sports performance rehab for athletes and active individuals. She attended Missouri State University and received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise and Movement Science.

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