Whether you’re a weekend warrior or you get your exercise walking the dog, chances are that if you’re physically active, at some point you’ve been on the receiving end of an athletic injury. Believe me, there is nothing worse than to be hobbled by an injury just before your big athletic event, an active vacation, or just as the weather turns warm enough to be able to play outside.
I’m writing from experience here. I’ve blown out my knee on the altar of faulty ski equipment. I’ve suffered stress fractures from stubbornly refusing to stop running. And I’ve nursed a shoulder injury by not training adequately for a paddling event. Uh, make that not training at all.
The good news is that you can do a lot to make sure you end up in the middle of play rather than on the sidelines, whether your venue is in a kayak or the tennis court. Here are my best tips:
-Warm up. This means stretch a little, get your body moving, and ease into your workout.
-Start slowly. Once you begin your workout, stay in low gear for the first five or ten minutes. As an acupuncturist, I’ve treated my share of athletes from the basket ball court to the softball field who have badly pulled a muscle going out too fast before they were warmed up.
-Use the right equipment for your sport, and make sure your equipment fits. On more than one occasion, I’ve restrained myself from yelling out the car window at cyclists who need to raise their seats. I can see the knee injuries awaiting these people after a few months of riding like this. Borrowed, old, and ill-fitting equipment are a recipe for injury.
-Dress for the weather. This means wearing layers to keep warm and dry during the cold weather and clothes that breathe and wick away moisture during the heat. How does this help avoid injuries? Cold muscles and joints are more prone to injury, and I consider heat stroke to be an injury.
-If something hurts, stop doing it. This is an ancient Chinese secret.
-Stretch. Flexibility is a frequently overlooked component of being physically fit. The only way to hold onto your flexibility is by stretching regularly. A flexible muscle is less likely to get injured under stress.
-Drink! Not the Fat Tire Pale Ale…well, at least not until later. Be sure to stay hydrated during and after you’ve exercised. This helps your body recover from the stresses of your workout.
-Be consistent with your workouts. This is where the weekend warriors take a hit. Your body will rebel if you try to blast the competition without training for the game. Give yourself enough time to build up some fitness first. A good rule is to increase by no more than ten percent of your previous week’s effort.
-Listen to your body. If you’re feeling achy, on the verge of getting sick, or fatigued, heed the message that your body is sending. Sure, you could go out and take a run or lift some weights, but you’re feeling funky for a reason. A better choice may be to skip the workout, do something easier, or go get a massage.
-Rest. When you rest, your body recovers from those killer workouts. If you’re really training for an event, you actually need some rest days to get better.
-Mix it up. Do more than one kind of workout. This may take the form of different sports, easy days, or playing your game in a different way. Switching it up gives your body a rest, uses different muscles, and allows you to recover from those harder workouts. It also keeps things fresh.
-Know the signs of an overuse injury. Pain that lasts hours or days after your workout, swelling, decreased range of motion, a decrease in strength, or favoring a particular muscle or joint may mean you’ve got an injury waiting in the wings.
-Take care of your body. Get a massage, stretch, get some acupuncture, or take a Yoga or Tai Qi class. Your body will thank you.
-Work with a trainer. An athletic trainer is a beautiful thing. They can help you achieve your goals while ensuring you’re using the right equipment, form, and training schedule.
-Lose some weight. If you’re overweight, you are putting all kinds stress on your body from your lower back to the arches in your feet. In addition, poor form or a mechanical imbalance will be magnified by any extra weight you’re carrying.
-Get some acupuncture. I know, I know; it’s all about acupuncture. The reality is that if you’re injured or if you want to take care of yourself so you don’t get injured, acupuncture can help. A few sessions on the table can get you balanced, pain-free and back in the game.