We all want to exercise, really, don’t we? But sometimes we get injured and we know how frustrating the rehab process can be. Here we take a look at the general approaches to avoiding, treating, and recovering from, sports injuries…

STAYING injury-free

There is a lot of detailed advice that can be given for each sport/activity as well as for each person (we are all unique), but let us focus on some general principles you would do well to consider:

  • Good technique – read a book, ask an experienced friend, copy more experienced exercisers, see a coach or personal trainer…. but make sure you are doing it right. Even an activity as simple as walking can be done a right way, and a wrong way. Really: do it right and your injury risk will be much less.
  • Good equipment – specialised equipment is not just for “looking good” and for Olympic level athletes. It is worth using because it’ll protect you from injury.
  • Stretching, warm-up, and cool-down – you should spend about 10 minutes before and after you exercise, preparing your body for what is to come, and allowing your body to recover gently afterwards.
  • Slowly, slowly, slowly – do not do too much too soon. Do not do too much too soon. Do not…. OK, you’ve got it? Overtraining, especially overtraining too early in your exercise programme, is probably the single most important cause of injury. Don’t do it. As a guide, about a 5-10% increase in exertion per week (e.g. walk for 20 minutes one Saturday, 22 minutes the next) is all you should aim for. It is enough.
  • Listen – to your own body. If you are exhausted and if you feel pain (any pain) or stiffness you are at high risk of injury: stop; rest; avoid injury.

TREATING injuries

Every person and every injury is unique. The modern treatment of sports injuries is a complex, and ever-changing, science. If you are injured, it is worth seeing your doctor or physiotherapist as soon as possible.

There are some worthwhile “first aid” measures that you can use to treat yourself in the time between the injury and consulting your doctor. RICE is the acronym:

  • R – rest. Stop using the injured area.
  • I – ice. Ice reduces swelling and improves the outcome. Use some crushed ice wrapped in a simple plastic bag. Apply it as often as possible to the injured area. This is especially important, and useful, in the 24 hours following an injury.
  • C – compression. Applying some pressure to the injury may reduce swelling. Use firm bandages and support dressings. Just don’t make them so tight they you cut off all the blood circulation.
  • E – elevation. If you can keep the injured area up – ideally higher than your heart/chest – you will reduce swelling and improve recovery.

These four simple principles can really make a big difference to the eventual outcome and speed of recovery.

RECOVERING from injury

Once you have seen a doctor and/or physiotherapist, you will undergo specific treatment(s) that may include:

  • Rest – important, and often “under-used”
  • Anti-inflammatory medications – applied directly to the injured area (gels, creams, patches – have the advantage of causing less side effects as they are only applied where they are needed) or as tablets/capsules.
  • Physiotherapy – may include specific advice about strengthening certain muscle groups, technique, etc. The modern approach to physiotherapy includes determining how best to avoid a repeat of the injury being treated.
  • Support bandaging/casts/splints
  • Surgery

At this stage, the most important thing is to follow medical advice as thoroughly as possible, but there are some additional considerations:

  • Stay motivated – injuries are a common reason for people to stop exercising. Remind yourself, very day, of the benefits of exercise, and how good you felt when you were active.
  • Consider cross-training – there may be some activities that you can take part in, without affecting your injury. (Swimming is often worth considering here.) Ask your doctor for advice about this option.
  • Learn – think about what caused your injury and what you can do to prevent it in the future. Were you overtraining? Is your equipment good enough? Do you need some coaching on technique?
  • Plan – set some realistic (!) and motivating targets for your return to exercise.

Exercise may be the best thing you can do for yourself and your overall wellbeing. Sports injuries can sometimes spoil your enjoyment of exercise and are certainly a frustration for many active people. However, with some careful thought and a sensible approach, most of these can be avoided. Even if you do get injured, there is still a lot you can do to help yourself get back to activity as quickly and safely as possible.