It’s the beginning of a new year, and all around the world people are making resolutions, earnestly intending for this year to be the one in which they reach their fitness goals. Among the top 10 resolutions in the US according to USA.gov, half are health related, and leading the list, not surprisingly, is the resolution to lose weight. As gym membership sales and fad diets spike from January to mid-February, so do injuries. Overexertion, poor exercise form, improper gear, lack of knowledge and other factors contribute to common workout injuries, such as sprains and strains, cuts, fractures and worse. Injuries like these can quickly derail progress toward a resolution or even set you further back than where you started.
Charlotte, NC, physical therapist and owner of Body Mechanix, Inc., David Nota, sees the aftermath of fitness resolutions in his clinics every year. Travel Well sat down with him to discuss the best ways to properly work toward your fitness goals, prevent injuries so you don’t get sidelined, and what to do if you do suffer an injury.
TW Notes:The advice here applies to only minor, non-emergency injuries to soft tissue (muscle, ligaments and tendons), such as sprained ankles, minor bruising, and pulled muscles. More significant injuries, like dislocations and broken bones, should be treated by your physician, and in any emergency situation, seek immediate medical attention or call 911.
TW: Do you see an increase in injuries early in the year?
DN: Yes we do, and it’s certainly reasonable with the significant number of people who use the New Year as the launching point for exercise programs. It’s also not unusual for people to try to start at levels where they left off so many weeks, months or years before. In doing so, they set themselves up for failure and often sprain/strain type injuries.
TW: What types of injuries do you see most often?
DN: Usually overexertion injuries, such as sprains and strains, are the most prevalent. These are injuries to muscles, tendons and ligaments in which those structures are overly stressed resulting in swelling, possible tears of the fibers and dysfunction in the structures. While these type of injuries often heal with time and appropriate attention, they can have a compounding effect over time and actually increase the risk for re-injury. If someone had sprained their ankle once and then jumped back into an aerobics class, they may be at a greater risk of spraining that ankle again. It’s a better approach to take care of the injury over a few weeks, modify your workout to include components that don’t overly challenge the area, and then gradually transition back to more dynamic activities once you’re beyond the healing phase of the injury.
TW: What kind of preventative methods would you recommend to those with fitness resolutions?
DN: The best thing is to gradually transition into activities and not jump back into the same level of difficulty or frequency where you may have been in the past. I encourage my patients to do cardio and light weight, high repetition training for a month prior to moving into more difficult or dynamic training or classes. This allows for reasonable accommodation of your body to activities that it may not be used to doing and reduces the risk of injury. Any time you can get professional guidance in developing a smart program, that’s a great way to reduce your overall risk as well.
TW: How can you differentiate between muscle soreness and injury?
DN: That can be difficult at times to answer because we are all so different, but generally speaking if you can complete the workout without sharp or significant pain, but rather experience muscle ache over the next couple of days, it’s unlikely that you’ve incurred an injury. You’re probably experiencing the body’s natural reaction to the increased workload placed on it. That being said, that discomfort should go away within a few days. Remember, 48 hours is the timeframe in which to feel the normal, increased soreness related to a workout. After that things should begin to feel better. During the workout, if you feel pain and an inability to continue the exercise, it may be that you have injured or damaged the tissue. Sharp pain with weakness in a muscle group during the activity certainly can indicate something more significant.
TW: If someone does suffer a non-emergency injury while exercising, how should they self-treat it?
DN: If we’re talking about a sprain/strain type injury like a sprained ankle in which you feel your strength or ability to perform an activity become impaired due to discomfort, weakness or pain, I recommend you stop immediately and make sure that you apply the traditional acute first-aid approach to the affected area: R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, elevation) over the next 48 – 72 hours and possibly use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen, if it’s consistent with your health or medical regimen. Many people make the mistake of applying heat too soon to an acute injury which, in turn, can cause damage, additional swelling and prolong their symptoms. Always check with your doctor if there are any questions or if you also take other medications.
Body Mechanix, Inc. specializes in injury prevention and ergonomics through corporate education, training programs and clinical treatment. CEO David Nota has been a physical therapist for more than 26 years and has been involved in athletic training and sports medicine for more than 30. Visit bodymechanixinc.com for more information.