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Prevention;  How to Address It;  Long-term Outlook

An exercise injury is one of the events that can bring a workout program to a grinding halt. Unfortunately, it's a very real possibility - especially for those who are new to exercise or try to push the limit of their endurance.

This page offers a brief guide to the basics of workout-related injuries. Please note that the information presented is not exhaustive. Furthermore, this information does not constitute medical advice and should not be interpreted as such.

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Exercise Injury

Following these simple rules is paramount when it comes to preventing an exercise injury:

  • Always warm up for at least 5 minutes prior to exercising.
  • Always cool down and stretch after exercise.
  • The more strenuous the exercise, the higher the importance of a proper warm-up. Muscles and joints that are warm become more flexible and therefore less likely to be injured during exercise.
  • Avoid going to full workout intensity right away after the warm-up. Build up gradually, so that your muscles and joints have time to adapt.
  • Use interval training to avoid overexertion. Interval training consists of periodically alternating high intensity and low intensity workout intervals. It is widely used by athletes, and believed to be more effective than training at constant intensity. It's a great way to protect yourself from exercise injuries, since your body has a chance to recover during the low intensity intervals.
  • If you are new to exercise, start out with light routines, and build up gradually to moderate routines. Stick with these for several months before advancing to strenuous routines.
  • If you are significantly overweight or have preexisting knee, hip, or back problems, avoid high impact aerobics, deep squats or lunges. All these may put you at increased risk for joint injuries. You may exercise your lower body and leg muscles using a strength training machine that allows you to sit or lie down and perform a more controlled set of motions.
  • If you find a certain exercise move particularly difficult or uncomfortable to perform, don't push yourself to do that move. Simply eliminate it from your workout routine.
  • And finally: Never exercise when you are sick or exhausted.

Exercise Injury
Addressing an Injury once it has occurred:

It's extremely important to recognize exercise injuries promptly and stop exercising so as to avoid further damage. Listed below are the tale-tell signs of exercise-related injury:

  • Sharp pain in a joint or muscle occurring suddenly during your workout (different from exercise-related muscle soreness, which is a diffuse aching sensation)
  • Any unusual discomfort occurring suddenly during your workout (e.g., chest discomfort)
  • Instability in a joint during workout (i.e., the sensation that a joint is excessively loose), which is a possible sign of ligament damage
  • Excessive crackling or crepitations in a joint, which indicates underlying joint problems or insufficient warm-up
What to do in case of injury:
  • Stop exercising at once
  • For sharp muscle or joint pain, apply an ice pack at the site of injury
  • Take an anti-inflammatory agent such as Advil (if you have no contraindications to such medication), or use a topical agent such as Icy Hot
  • See your physician for a work-up if your symptoms persist
  • If experiencing chest pain or pressure, the most prudent course of action is to call 911 (since chest discomfort may indicate a cardiac event)
  • Do not resume your exercise routine until you are completely recovered or have been cleared by your physician

Exercise Injury
Long-term Outlook:

Unfortunately, certain workout injuries may linger on and become chronic, especially if not addressed in a timely manner. Beyond the obvious repercussions on one's health and daily activities, chronic injury also makes it difficult to stick with a regular exercise routine, which in turn makes weight control that much harder.

The question is: Is it possible to work out with chronic injury? And if so, is it advisable? Here are the facts to consider:

  • It's common knowledge that many athletes continue working out despite chronic injury. So naturally, this is doable. However, keep in mind these are pros who know how to avoid re-injury, and usually have access to prompt medical care.
  • For the non-professional exerciser, the best way to resume exercise after injury is to follow a rehab routine under the supervision of a physical therapist. That way, the injured joint or muscle can be gradually conditioned in a controlled environment.
  • If everything fails and a certain injury cannot be rehabilitated, there is still a possibility to work around that injury. For example, if you have a nagging knee injury that keeps flaring up after exercise, you could structure your exercise routines such as to avoid bending the knee joint, especially under pressure. This of course means no aerobics, especially no high impact aerobics. However, you can devise a strength training routine that works most body muscles while sparing your injured knee. For instance, you can do upper body strength training using free weights (preferably done sitting, to avoid putting pressure on the injured knee), and abdominal floor routines (crunches, etc), which most likely wouldn't affect the knee. As for the leg muscles, you can work them lying on the floor and lifting the leg repetitively at various angles, without bending the knee. The weight of the leg will act as resistance to the movement. Additionally, you can place a dumbbell on your thigh, or use ankle weights to increase resistance. If any of the moves you perform causes you discomfort, simply discontinue the respective move.
  • Such "sparing routines" can be devised for any injured joint in the body, including hip, shoulder, spine, etc. The idea is to tailor your workouts such as to avoid putting strain on the injured joint. Strength training machines may play an important role in this regard, allowing more precise and controlled movements.

This being said, please keep in mind that such exercise programs are best devised by an experienced physical therapist or professional trainer. Doing it on your own may put you at risk for additional injury.


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