Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders play sport every year for enjoyment and to keep in shape. While exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, constant stop-start movements in many sports can place stress on muscles and joints. There are a few simple things you can do to ensure you get the most out of your fitness programme and help prevent injuries.
Whatever sport you play, it is essential to maintain your fluid levels to avoid dehydration. Try to drink water often, before, during and after sport, rather than waiting until you feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks which can dehydrate you more.
The right equipment
Ensure you have the correct footwear and dress appropriately for the weather. To help avoid injury, protective equipment such as knee and elbow pads, helmets, mouth guards, gloves or shin pads may be helpful.
Warming up, cooling down
Warming up before exercise promotes the blood flow to the muscles and increases your flexibility and so can reduce your risk of injury. Following exercise, gently cool down to ease soreness and stiffness and remove waste products from the muscles, replacing them with nutrients and oxygen.
Try not to overdo it when beginning a new activity, build your fitness levels gradually and set goals. Stop when you feel fatigued and build on that next time.
Treating an injury
Sprains and strains are the most common sporting injuries and although the terms are often used interchangeably, they are different injuries. A strain (or “pulled muscle”) is damage to a muscle or tendon from overuse or a twist to the area, for example back injuries, tennis elbow or hamstring strain. A sprain is an injury to a ligament, commonly from overstretching the ankles or wrists after a fall. In more severe cases, the ligament can tear, causing bruising, swelling and difficulty putting weight on the area. In this case, an X-ray should be taken to prevent untreated fractures.Treating mild sprains and strains is largely about reducing the damage, swelling and pain. “RICE” is the standard treatment for both:
- Rest – try to reduce any weight or exercise to that area, especially for the first 48 hours.
- Ice - apply an icepack or pack of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a dry cloth, for up to 20 minutes every two or three hours while pain and swelling is present.
- Compression – use elastic bandages or joint supports to support the injured area and wear them whenever the area is painful.
- Elevation – raising the injured area above the level of the heart for the first 24 to 48 hours will help to decrease swelling to the area.
All moderate to severe injuries, broken bones and concussions should be checked by your doctor. As should injuries with there is pronounced swelling, bleeding, bruising or are too painful to put any weight on.