Avoid Exercise Injury

Photo Credit: Peter van der Sluijs CC-BY-SA-3.0
No one is immune from workout injuries, but you can take steps to reduce your risk of injury. The most common type of workout injuries are strained muscles, knee and ankle sprains, shin splints, wrist sprain, shoulder injuries and tendinitis which is painful inflammation of the tendons from overuse. See your doctor if the pain persists, there is swelling or discoloration of the injured area. Always see your doctor for a full checkup prior to beginning an exercise program if you have been inactive for a long time or have a medical condition, such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes. 
You can reduce your risk of strains and sprains by warming up before exercise and cooling down after a workout. Warming up gradually increases your heart rate and helps your muscles and joints prepare for more strenuous exercise by increasing blood flow. Cooling down will gradually return reduce your heart rate and allow your muscles and joints to relax following exercise. Stretching, walking and riding a stationary bicycle are good ways to warm up and cool down. Warm up and cool down for at least 10 minutes. 

Begin a new exercise by gradually increasing the level of your workout. For example, when you begin lifting weights start with the lightest weight possible. Don’t grab a 10 pound dumbbell and start doing bicep curls if you’ve never used them. Start with a 2 pound weight and gradually work toward the heavier weights. Don’t try to walk 2 miles if you haven’t been walking further than the distance between your car and your front door. If you overdo it you risk sore muscles and injury. 
Always use correct form when performing any exercise. Seek instruction from a qualified fitness instructor. Performing an exercise with poor form can result in injuries, especially when lifting weights or using resistance bands. Your posture is critical to effective exercise and to avoid injury. 
Cross training can help you prevent over-use injuries that are caused by repetitive motions. Alternate days for lifting weights and running or jogging. A fitness trainer can help you to develop a weekly plan so that you work a different muscle group each day. Cross training allows your muscles to rest between workouts. 

"Barefoot" Running Shoes?

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One of the fastest growing trends in running shoes is the minimalist or “barefoot” shoe. These shoes have been flying off the shelves of exercise and fitness stores across the United States. The shoes are designed with a minimum of amount of material between the runner’s foot and the ground in order to mimic running in bare feet. The risk of injury is high for barefoot runners due to scrapes, cuts and bruises from the high-impact on runners’ feet. Minimalist running shoes provide little support, but can protect the feet from injury.  Do these shoes actually help you get more from exercise value from your run? 
Manufacturers of these shoes claim that barefoot runners tend to land each step near the balls of their feet near the big toe instead of on the heel as runners wearing regular shoes. Landing each step on the ball of the foot reduces the impact on the feet and legs. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) exercise physiologist Pete McCall recommends minimalist running shoes that mimic barefoot running because the foot has better contact with the ground. According to McCall, regular running shoes have an elevated heel that can interfere with balance. Wearing minimalist running shoes during your walk or run may also increase the dexterity of your feet and toes. ACE sought the assistance of a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse to conduct a study of the effectiveness of the barefoot shoes. A group of casual joggers were given a pair of barefoot shoes which they used for 20 minutes three times each week for 2 weeks. At the end of the trial period, about 1/2 of the subjects had changed from the common heel-strike style of running to landing on or near the balls of their feet. 
The bottom line on bare-foot style running shoes is that they provide no cushioning for heel-strike runners  who should either not wear the shoes or change their running style to a toe-strike gait. Heel-strike runners risk injury to the feet and legs if they run or jog in minimalist style shoes. Be prepared to change the way you run if you want to try a pair of these shoes.

Prevention and Treatment of Shin Splints

Photo Credit: Andrey CC-BY-2.0
Runners. joggers, athletes and others who engage in high-impact aerobic exercise or sports can suffer from shin splints. Shin splints is a painful condition of the tibia and lower leg. The tibia is the large bone in the front of the lower leg, often called the shin bone. Force exerted on the shin can injure the tendons and connective tissues that attach the muscles to the tibia resulting in pain, swelling and sometimes redness. Shin splints can be very painful and may last for a few days to a week. See a doctor if swelling or redness persists and pain does not begin to subside within a few days. You can treat shin splints with ice to reduce the swelling and an over-the-counter pain reliever with an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen. 
You can prevent shin splints by taking  a few simple precautions. Wear a shoe designed for the type of activity you want to engage in. Runners and joggers should wear a shoe with a good arch support and enough padding to cushion the impact of the foot hitting the ground. Replace your shoes when they begin to show wear, usually after about 350 miles of wear. If you still experience shin pain, even with a good shoe, consider adding arch supports. A podiatrist can help you select an appropriate size arch support to relieve the stress on  your shin and support your feet comfortably. 
You can reduce the chance of suffering shin splints by cross-training and running on alternate days. Try swimming one day and running the next followed by bicycling before running again. You will help protect your shins from injury. Cross-training is also an excellent way to keep your whole body in shape. Strength train your leg muscles to strengthen the muscle and tendons attached to the shin. Lift weights with your legs and perform crunches and other exercises that will strengthen all the muscles of your legs. 

For more information about shin splints, see:
Mayo Clinic, Shin Splints

Tennis Elbow

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Painful joints, tendons and muscles of the elbow may indicate a condition known as lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow. As the name implies, tennis players who have not perfected the backhand return can suffer strained tendons that cause the pain of tennis elbow. Anyone may suffer this condition. Tennis elbow is caused by overworked tendons. People who engage in repetitive motions of the wrist and arm can be susceptible to tennis elbow. The pain may remain localized in the elbow or it can spread to the forearm and wrist. Severe tennis elbow pain can be debilitating. It can be difficult to turn a doorknob, pick up a coffee cup or hold a cooking pot by the handle. Tennis elbow will usually clear up on its own with some basic home-treatments. See a doctor if rest, ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers do not relieve symptoms of tennis elbow. 
Tennis elbow can affect anyone who engages in repetitive motion of the hand, wrist and arm, but some people are more susceptible to this painful condition. Chefs, painters, carpenters, plumbers and butchers often suffer from tennis elbow because of the daily repetition of the same arm movements. There are some ways to avoid this condition. First, learn the proper form when playing tennis, racquetball or golf. The swinging motion of the arm can result in stressed and injured tendons if the movement is not properly executed. When repetitive motions at work are the cause of tennis elbow, change to a more ergonomic way of performing the task. Raise or lower your chair if excessive use of a computer mouse is the culprit. Change the standard keyboard and computer mouse to ergonomically designed versions. Take frequent breaks from performing repetitive movements to stretch your arm muscles. Continue mild to moderate exercise as elbow pain allows and perform some stretching and strengthening exercises twice daily. Hold each exercise for up to 30 seconds and do up to 10 repetitions. 
Sit on a sturdy chair, bend the affected elbow and place your forearm on your thigh. Hold a light, 1-pound dumbbell in your  hand with your palm down, facing the floor. Your hand with the weight should be extended beyond your knee, far enough to allow the wrist and hand to move up and down without touching your knee. Slowly lift your wrist up toward the ceiling. Hold the position and then slowly lower your wrist down toward your knee and hold the position. After performing 10 repetitions, do the same exercise with your palm facing the ceiling while holding the dumbbell. Strengthen the tendons and muscles of your forearm by holding a dumbbell in your hand and extending your arm straight out in front of your body. Hold a dumbbell in your hand so that it is perpendicular to the floor. Your palm should be pointed toward your body. Rotate your hand and wrist until your palm is pointed at the floor. Slowly rotate back to the start position. 

Rotator Cuff Rehabilitation Exercises

Photo Credit: GTindy CC-BY-SA-3.0 2002

A rotator cuff shoulder injury is painful and may require rehabilitation exercise to repair and heal the injury. Symptoms of an injured rotator cuff include pain, joint stiffness and weakness. See a doctor immediately if you suspect you have injured your rotator cuff and follow her advice for treatment of the injury. Exercise can help heal an injured rotator cuff, but do not perform any rehabilitation exercises except under the supervision and with the approval of your doctor. You can strengthen and improve your rotator cuff to rehabilitate an injury and to lessen the risk of future injury by doing stretching and strengthening exercises. 
Stretching exercises increase the range-of-motion and restore flexibility to a stiff shoulder joint. An over-head stretch is easy to do. Stand up straight in front of a sturdy, stable chair with the back of the chair facing you. Bend forward at the waist and bend  your knees slightly. Reach forward with your arms straight and grasp the back of the chair. Look at the floor with your head between your arms and lower your body until you feel your shoulders stretch. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then stand up using a smooth motion. Repeat this exercise 2 times each day and increase to 4 times each day as your flexibility improves.  

Another effective rotator cuff flexibility exercise is a behind-the-back shoulder stretch. Reach behind your back with one arm and grasp the injured arm at the wrist. Pull the injured arm up gently to stretch the shoulder joint and increase flexibility of the rotator cuff. A variation of this exercise is to hold a towel behind your back. Hold the towel at shoulder level with your unaffected arm and grasp the towel behind your back with your injured arm. Gently pull the towel up to stretch your shoulder. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds and then relax. Repeat the exercise twice each day. 
It is important to increase the strength of your shoulder and rotator cuff to help avoid injury or re-injury. Isometric exercises are a good way to build strength without moving the joint. Stand about 6 inches from a wall, facing the wall. Hold your injured arm close to your body and make a fist with your thumb over your fingers. Bend your elbow and press your fist against the wall. Try to keep your body stationary as you press your fist against the wall. Don’t push with all your strength, but push until you feel your muscles begin to contract. Hold the position for about 5 seconds and repeat the exercise 10 times each day. As you grow stronger, push against the wall harder and hold the position longer.
Continue doing rehabilitative exercises as directed by your doctor, even if your shoulder feels better and you are no longer experiencing pain. Shoulder stretching and strengthening exercises are important even if you don’t have an injury to increase your shoulder strength and avoid injury. 

Strengthen Your Feet & Ankles

Photo Credit: אנדר-ויק CC-BY-SA-3.0 2009

Everyone, especially walkers, joggers and runners need strong feet and ankles to avoid injury, soreness and pain. Strong ankles and feet can  help you avoid injury from a sprain. Ankle sprains are a common injury, even among people who do not run or jog. Untreated ankles sprains can cause long-term joint problems, such as stiffness or weakness. See a doctor right away if you sprained your ankle and notice any swelling, bruising or other discoloration of the foot and ankle, coldness, numbness or tingling in the foot and toes. Begin exercising to rehabilitate your sprain only under the advice of a doctor and supervision of a rehabilitation fitness expert. There are a few exercises you can do to strengthen your ankles and help prevent injury. Try these exercises in your bare feet. 

Stand on one foot and hold your arms out from the shoulders parallel to the floor. Keep your eyes open and look straight ahead. Hold the position for 60 seconds, if possible. Try to avoid rocking on your foot by keeping the sole of your foot on the floor. Lower your leg and repeat with the other side. This exercise will not only strengthen your foot and ankle, it is a great balance exercise too.

Stand on the edge of a stair with your toes and allow the heels of your feet to drop an inch or two inches below the stair. Hold the wall or a hand-rail for support and balance if needed. Hold this exercise for up to 60 seconds. Lift your heels and stand on the edge of the stairs using your toes. Hold this position for up to one minute. Next, lower your heels as far down as you can and hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds and relax. Repeat the stretch for 10 repetitions.

Use a table or a stable chair for balance and stand on your toes. Hold the position for 5 seconds and then lower your feet back to the floor. Repeat this exercise for 20 repetitions. When your feet and ankles become stronger, increase the number of repetitions or perform the toe stand exercise using one foot at a time. 
Increase your ankle range of motion by stretching and rotating your foot. Sit on a chair and raise one leg about  2 to 3 inches off the floor. Point your toes and rotate your ankle clockwise 5 times and then counter-clockwise 5 times. Repeat with the other foot. Try to move only your ankle and not your leg. Next, drop a towel or a sock on the floor and use your toes to pick it up. Drop it and pick it up again 2 more times. Repeat the exercise 3 times with each foot. Increase the number of repetitions as it becomes easier for you to pick up the towel or sock.