When you start working out to improve your body’s strength and overall health, you do a wonderful thing for yourself. But on the other hand, you open yourself up to potential athletic injuries and other problems that pop up for athletes. Many of these issues are much less likely to happen when you live a healthy lifestyle and practice your sport or activity safely. And having good form and using the right equipment will also help you get the most benefit out of your activities, so why would you want to skip out on that anyway? Of course, even when you’re doing all the other stuff right, accidents like broken bones or torn ligaments can still happen and rain on your parade. Accidents aside, to prevent athletic health worries, there are a few things you should make a part of your regular routine from maintaining a healthy diet to following R.I.C.E. when injured.
Athletic Health Topics
Diet. Maintaining a healthy diet will ensure that your body has all the nutrients it needs to work its best, lowering your risk for injury. What that diet consists of will depend on your fitness goals and your current weight and fitness level. For weight loss, you want fewer calories, but ones that come from nutritious foods and drinks. If you’re in shape and are starting to train for an event, you’ll probably have to up your calorie intake, but not by eating more Big Macs. Depending on your sport, it might mean more carbs, protein, and/or vitamins. And it goes without saying that you need to stay hydrated, both during athletic activity and in daily life.
Gear. You also need to practice your sport/activity/whatever in such a way as to reduce your risk of injuries. Let’s start with the sort of gear you use. Helmets, knee pads, etc., are highly recommended for some athletics. You may think you look like a wimp, but you’ll be singing a different tune if you end up with a concussion someday. Then there’s type of clothing and footwear. There’s a reason nobody works out in jeans. Chafing galore. Attire differs for pretty much every activity, so go with what’s comfortable and makes sense. Shoes should fit you well and will need to be replaced every so often. They may feel comfy, but those old sneakers probably don’t absorb shock as well as a new pair will. And the duct tape holding them together might affect their grip.
Performance. Then there’s the way you perform your activity. Always warm up and cool down, use equipment properly, and have good form. Pushing yourself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but listen to your body. If it hurts real bad, it’s trying to tell you something. Jamming five days worth of activity into your one free morning all week is a recipe for disaster. Increase the intensity and length of your workouts gradually, don’t just jump in. If you practice a well-rounded athletic routine, including strengthening, stretching, and aerobic exercise, you’ll better your athletic performance and lower your risk for overuse injuries.
For most mild sports injuries, and even some serious ones, there is one go-to method of self-care that can help you feel better. Rest, ice, compression and elevation.
- Rest. Whether you’re noticing a gradual onset of pain that’s only increasing, or you have immediate pain in a body part, stop what you’re doing, or at least do less of it. Continuing to put pressure on injured muscles or bones can cause further injury.
- Ice. This will help reduce inflammation and your pain levels. Use whatever you’ve got handy: a bag of ice, frozen gel pack or vegetables. I actually like using bags of veggies because they are more flexible and can form around the area in question. Wrap up your frozen item in some fabric and only let it sit for about twenty minutes at a time, but you can do this several times a day.
- Compression. Again to reduce inflammation, you can wrap up your ankle, wrist, or whatever in a brace, ACE bandages and the like, or a splint. Depending on the injury, the immobilization can help healing as well, and a healthcare professional can give the best advice on how to do this properly for your particular problem.
- Elevation. If you keep the injured area raised about the level of your heart, you will help reduce swelling and you’ll also avoid that pounding, heartbeat-type feeling in the area. Rest the painful appendage on some pillows, your dog, or something else that’s cozy to keep it raised up.
Athletic Injuries and Home vs. Professional Treatment
Whenever something out of the ordinary is going on with your body, the first thing most people wonder is, “Do I have to go in for this?” The line of when to see a doctor can be fuzzy with minor sports injuries, so here are a few guidelines to help you decide. First, is it an acute or chronic injury? An acute injury is one that happened suddenly, with immediate pain, swelling, tenderness, the works. Chronic injuries develop from overuse and involve pain when performing your sport/activity and less intense pain when at rest. The severity of these symptoms will be a big indicator of whether or not you need professional care. Severe pain and swelling or being unable to put weight on the injured area are dead giveaways to call your doctor. Knowing which category your injury falls into, chronic or acute, will help your healthcare provider diagnose and treat your problem. Broken bones or dislocations need immediate care, but if those are ruled out, you can always try and treat at home, and go in if the problem doesn’t get better. R.I.C.E. is the tried and true method for treating minor aches and pains. But going to a doctor probably won’t make your problem worse, so if you’re not sure, playing it safe is never a bad idea.