How to Prevent Sports Injuries

Healthy Life (Greenwich, Conn.)—June 27, 2012

When Newtown resident Laura McKail was practicing a move in kickboxing class several years ago, she felt a sudden and intense burst of pain. "I felt like I got shot in my leg. I couldn't put any weight on it. I had to limp and it began to swell up," McKail, 51, says.

When she went to the emergency room, she was told she had a torn calf muscle, was put in a walking boot and was on crutches for three weeks. Once the boot came off, she needed several weeks of physical therapy. It was about six weeks before she could resume her regular exercise routine, which was a mixture of kickboxing, running and riding on a stationary bike.

McKail says she thinks she could have prevented her injury "if I had properly warmed up beforehand. I didn't do this. In each class, the kickboxing instructor would usually jump right into the workout," she says. "I now know this isn't the right thing to do."

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"Lifting weights strengthens your bones," says Sabrina Strickland, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine with the Hospital for Special Surgery, with an office in Greenwich. Strickland is chief of orthopedics at the Bronx Veteran's Affairs Medical Center in New York, as well as assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan.

"It's important to do a multitude of different weight-lifting programs," she says, adding the amount of weight you lift and the numbers of repetitions you do aren't so important. "Programs can include body sculpting, circuit training and free weights. In this way, you're stressing your bones in different ways, which decreases your chances of getting injuries, such as a stress fracture." Lifting, she adds, can be done in as little as 20 minutes or for up to one and a half hours.

For most types of sports, a comfortable shoe is sufficient. The exception is running, Strickland says. "For running, it's important to replace your sneakers every 300 to 500 miles. If you don't, you'll lose the shock absorption in your sneaker, and you can get a stress fracture or tendinitis.

When preventing injury in any sport, it's essential to know when to stop. If you experience symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, stop playing immediately, Strickland says.

Be careful about doing too much, too soon. With running, "A conservative running program progresses by 10 percent a week. More aggressive programs or starting with five or 10 miles risks tendinitis, stress fractures and joint inflammation," Strickland says.

In a group exercise class, injuries can happen since "everyone is at a different level of fitness. You may feel pressure to do what the person next to you is doing, when you're not yet ready for it," she says.

If you're new to class, "approach the instructor before it begins and ask for advice," Strickland says. "I always recommend situating yourself toward the back of the class so you don't feel self-conscious when you fall behind. Don't feel like you have to do as many repetitions or lift as many weights as the person next to you."

If you're in a spinning class (where you pedal on a stationary bicycle), the bicycle has adjustable speeds, so you can set your own resistance. "You don't have to turn it three times to the right just because the instructor tells you to.

"Overall, you need to ramp up slowly when you start a new activity and try to seek advice from trainers or instructors when possible," Strickland says.

Read the full story at healthylifect.com.

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