Where there is exercise, there is surely injury. Sooner or later, it happens to nearly all of us, whether we’re elite athletes or simply weekend warriors trying to stave off weight gain. And my guess is that, with the onslaught of new exercise programs some people are trying out after the new year, the number of exercise-related injuries is at a peak right now.
I myself have recently been “benched” from exercise due to a nagging hamstring injury, and, if I’m being honest, the forced rest is nearly driving me crazy! I know of several fellow athletes who are in a similar position, and the one thing they all say is this: it’s frustrating sitting by and watching your fitness go out the window! So I’ve decided to fill you in on some simple injury-related tips to help you both prevent and manage those nagging problems.
To prevent injury:
- Stretch! You don’t have to be as flexible as a gymnast, but a little flexibility goes a long way in preventing injury. The Mayo Clinic offers great demos of 10 basic stretches and easy office stretches
- Get lots of sleep. Being alert is important when it comes to exercise. (I confess that this is not my strong point!)
- Eat snacks and drink properly to prevent fatigue during long workouts. See my previous post for more details.
- Mix up your workouts to increase the variety and avoid overworking one muscle group. For example, if you’re a runner, try substituting two days each week with a low-impact sport like biking or swimming.
- If you’re starting a new workout program, ramp up the intensity slowly, preferably with the guidance of a trainer or coach helping to structure the program.
- Try to avoid stress because this can cause muscle tension and soreness.
If you are injured, you may need to adjust your diet. Here are some suggestions for coping during recovery:
- Cut back on portion sizes and snacks a bit to compensate for a lower activity level. This may be hard at first because the body takes a while to adjust, but it’s important to listen to bodily cues and stop eating before you get really ‘full.’
- Maintain a moderate protein intake (about 1.0-1.5g/kg) but consider reducing your carb and fat intake as a simple way to cut out some superfluous calories.
- Stay active in any way possible! If your leg is the problem, use arm weights to do upper body exercises, and if the problem is your arm, consider a lower-body workout like running, biking, walking the stairs, or even just a simple walk on the treadmill! (Of course, you should always talk with your doctor before doing anything that might injure you further.)
- Again, get plenty of sleep!
- For acute, mild injuries, try the RICE method as your first line of defense: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. And if the injury is more severe, then go see a physician immediately!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Having recently dealt with an injury that forced a change in my typical exercise pattern, I completely agree with Karen’s advice. The good news? You can use the injury recovery period as an opportunity to investigate different activities. Substitute swimming or stationary biking for jogging or walking. If you have an upper body injury, try the treadmill or outdoor walking. Regardless of injury, it’s a good idea to mix up your exercise activities, in order to challenge different muscle groups and avoid boredom.
Of course, for severe and painful injuries, consult a physician (immediately) and possibly a physical therapist. Those professionals can advise you on which activities are suitable and how much to push yourself, or not, during recovery. And yes, if the injury has impacted your activity level, cut back a bit on food intake. If you’re more sedentary, there’s little room for junky snacks or high calorie beverages. Emphasize high protein foods at all meals to suppress your appetite.