Prevent & Treat Common Workout Injuries

Hildgrim CC-BY-SA-2.0

Whether you are in top shape or a beginner, a workout injury can happen to anyone. You can experience an injury even when you are walking. A sprained joint or injured muscle can side-line you for days or even weeks. You can and should take steps to help reduce your risk of injury before and after every workout. The most common types of workout injuries include:

  • strained muscles
  • sprained ankles or other joints
  • knee injuries
  • wrist and shoulder injuries
  • tendinitis

Warm-up your muscles and joints before exercise and a cool-down after your workout can greatly reduce your risk of muscle and joint injury. Cool-down by doing light exercise until your heart rate and respiration return to normal. Stretch your muscles and joints again. Stretching after a workout helps to reduce the levels of lactic acid and other metabolic waste in your muscle cells, which is thought to contribute to post-exercise muscle soreness.

Don’t push yourself too hard during a workout. Know your body and  your limits. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your workout by working harder, longer or increasing repetitions. Soon your strength and endurance will increase which can also help reduce your risk of injury.

Cross training is another good way to increase muscle strength, improve endurance and reduce your risk of injury. Shin splints and tendinitis are injuries that usually result from repetitive motions and over-use of one muscle or muscle group. Always rest at least 24 hours between workouts to give your muscles time to heal. For example, if you run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, try some light weight lifting on Tuesday and Thursday. Vary your workout so that all of your major muscle groups get a workout, but no single muscle or muscle group is over-worked.

If you do suffer an injury, remember R.I.C.E.: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate. Rest your injured muscle. Don’t work it until the injury is completely healed. You can still work your other muscles or engage in exercise that does not stress your injury. For example, if you injure your shoulder lifting weights, switch your workout to leg presses or walk and jog until your shoulder is fully healed. Apply ice to the injured area to reduce swelling. Applying a compression bandage to the affected joint or muscle also helps reduce swelling. Elevate injured limbs to further help reduce swelling. Use a mild over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medication if necessary. Most exercise injuries will heal in a few weeks or even in a few days. See your doctor if your injury does not heal, pain increases or does not subside, or if there is swelling and bruising around the injured area.


Stay Cool & Hydrated During Summer Workouts

Bibikoff CC-BY-2.0

The summer heat is sizzling but you can still enjoy outdoor exercise if you take a few precautions. When it’s hot outside your body sweats to help you cool off and stay cool by evaporating and taking heat away as your sweat evaporates. High humidity can prevent your sweat from evaporating. That’s one of the reasons you feel so miserable on high humidity days. Make sure that you drink enough water to stay hydrated. You can’t rely on how thirsty you feel to stay hydrated, so make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout.

Drink 2 eight ounce cups of water before you start exercising outdoors on hot days. Drink another 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. Carry a bottle of water if you are biking, walking, jogging or running. When you finish your outdoor workout, drink another 8 ounces of water. You can drink other types of fluids if you get bored with water. Dilute some fruit juice with water or try a sports drink in your favorite flavor. Juice and sports drinks can not only keep you hydrated but also replenish carbohydrates, minerals and electrolytes. Many sports drinks increase your blood sugar which can become depleted during exercise. Avoid energy drinks that contain caffeine as these can actually increase dehydration and increase your heart rate.

Don’t push yourself too hard when the temperature reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Exercise indoors in an air conditioned gym if the weather is too hot or humid. Learn the warning signs of heat illness. Muscle cramps, headache, dizziness and fatigue may be signs of serious heat illness. Stop exercising, rest and re-hydrate your body. See a doctor if symptoms persist.

Safe Summer Grilling

Photo Credit:  Tom Harpel  CC-BY-2.0
Grilling food outdoors during the summer is an American tradition. The savory smell of grilled steaks and vegetables fill neighborhoods all around the country during this time of the year. Unfortunately, many Americans will cook high-fat, high-cholesterol foods like sausages and ground beef. In addition to the unhealthy saturated fat, meat drippings that burn on the coals release chemicals that may contribute to cancer. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced when meat is grilled or when fats burn on the grill coals or heating elements. Bacteria is also a potential health concern when grilling outdoors. Handle meats carefully, make lean meat choices and grill more vegetables for a safer, healthier grilling season.
Grilled ground beef patties are a summer fare favorite. Bacteria on meat is normally killed during the cooking process but under-cooked meat can leave live bacteria inside the meat. Bacteria on the outside of ground beef gets mixed up to the inside of the burger patties when they are formed. Cook hamburger patties thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria hiding inside your burger. A 1/2 inch thick burger should be cooked for about 13 to 15 minutes. Meats like chicken, steaks and fish should be cooked thoroughly to kill bacteria inside the meats. The only way to be sure chicken is safely cooked is to use a meat thermometer. The inside temperature of chicken has to reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safely cooked. 
Cook sausages on low heat to avoid charring the outside but leaving the inside under-cooked. Bratwurst and Italian sausages should be cooked over low coals to prevent the skin from burning and splitting. Start with a lean cut of meat and trim all the fat off the meat before grilling to reduce the saturated fats in your diet and to avoid potentially harmful chemicals released when fat drips on the coals.
Try some fruits and vegetables on your summer grill for a tasty healthy alternative to meat. Tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, pineapple, eggplant,  apples, pears, and onions are delicious grilled as a vegetable-fruit mix or as kabobs. Cook vegetables for 10 to 12 minutes over a medium grill. Use marinade for extra flavor.

Avoid Poison Plants

We’ve talked about how to protect yourself from stinging and biting insects when exercising outdoors, but there are also plants that you should avoid. Many people will experience an allergic reaction on the skin when they come into contact with poison sumac, poison oak or poison ivy. These plants exude an oil called urushiol which can cause a painful, itchy rash and sometimes blisters. The rash usually does not appear before 12 hours after exposure and can occur up to 72 hours after you come into contact with one of these plants. Learn to identify these plants so you can avoid contact and reduce your risk of an itchy rash.  The saying “leaves of three, let it be” is a good way to identify most poisonous plants. Poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak all have three leaves on the end of a stem.
POISON IVY Photo Credit: Stilfehler CC-BY-SA-3.0
 Poison ivy grows in shady, wooded areas. It grows in a low bush or can trail up a tree or fence like a vine. The whole plant is poisonous. The stems, leaves, flowers and the roots can cause a skin rash. You can even get a rash from touching clothing that has been exposed to the urushiol on this plant. Wear long pants and long sleeves if you plan to walk or jog in wooded areas or along a path where poison ivy is growing. A slight brush against the leaves or stems is enough to cause a rash. Poison ivy also grows in residential areas along fences and on tree trunks. Keep fence lines trimmed. Wear protective clothing, gloves and a face mask when removing poison ivy from your fence or tree.
POISON OAK Photo Credit: Tim Vasquez CC-BY-SA-3.0
Poison oak also has a 3-part leave group on the end of a stem and usually grows low to the ground. The leaves have a jagged edge much like an oak leaf. The leaves change color with the season and may be dark green in the spring and early summer but change to a yellow, a rich red or a reddish-black color in the fall and early winter. Poison oak has small green berries that turn to a pale white-green in the summer to early autumn. There is so much urushiol in this plant that the leaves are shiny with the oil. Poison oak, like poison ivy, grows in a low bush or can climb trees and fences like a vine. 
Poison sumac leaves are smoother on the edges and often have a mottled dark green, red, brown, yellow appearance with black spots. The black spots are the areas where the urushiol is excreted. Poison sumac usually grows in damp or swampy areas. It prefers shade to sunlit areas. Poison sumac grows as a small shrub and can achieve the size of a small tree. Each leaf group has a row of paired leaves on the stem with the third leaf on the end of the stem. 
If you do come into contact with one of these poisonous plants, DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE OR RUB YOUR EYES. You could transfer the oil to your face and eyes. Wash the affected area with soap and cool water as soon as possible. Wash your clothes and shoes as well. A rash can develop from contact with the oil from these plants on clothes and shoes. Calamine lotion can help relieve the itching if you do develop a rash. Do not pop blisters as this will spread the rash. See your doctor if the rash becomes painful or does not clear up in a few days. 

Beware of Bugs When Exercising Outdoors

Photo Credit: John Sullivan PD
Many people exercise outdoors, especially during warm weather. When the weather is warm, the bugs come out! The more time you spend outside, especially in rural areas, parks and other wooded areas the more likely you are to be bitten by a bug or stung by a bee. Spiders, bees, mosquitoes, wasps and ticks live in most every part of the United States. Stinging and biting insects are found even in cities. Insects and spiders can make you sick in addition to leaving a painful, itchy, swollen bite on your skin. Most insect bites cause only a mild reaction but sometimes insects and spiders can make you very sick or even cause severe allergic reactions which can be life threatening. When you exercise outside during warm weather, take measures to protect yourself.
Use an insect repellent to protect yourself from flying insects, like mosquitoes and bees. You can apply an insect repellent over your sunscreen, but avoid using repellents on your face or other sensitive areas of the skin. There are over-the-counter products that combine both a sunscreen and an insect repellent. Choose a natural, herbal and essential oil insect repellent if you don’t want to use a chemical concoction. Health food and herbalist stores can help you find the ingredients to make your own natural repellent or you can buy pre-mixed natural insect repellents in some stores.
Learn your local flora, find out when the plants bloom and which insect pollinators are attracted to the flowers. Most wild flowering plants bloom for a short time. Should you be stung by a bee while walking, running or jogging outdoors, remove the stinger as soon as possible. Bee stingers are barbed to hold them in the skin. Bees leave the stinger and the venom sack behind in your skin. Don’t pinch the stinger with tweezers to remove it or you could squeeze more venom into your skin. Scrape the stinger out of your skin by dragging a flat, straight-edge object, like a credit card, across the stinger. If you are allergic to bee or wasp stings, you probably should avoid areas where bees and wasps will be attracted to flowering plants.

Ticks live almost everywhere, especially in wooded areas and tall grass. Ticks can carry diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease or tularemia. Ticks bite by burying their tiny heads in your skin and sucking blood. Remove a tick with tweezers by grasping the tick as close to your skin as possible and pulling it straight out. Wash the affected area with soap and water and treat it with an antiseptic. If you enjoy hiking, walking and exploring in wooded areas, wear light color clothing to make it easier to see ticks on your clothes. Wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants with the cuffs tucked into your socks to prevent ticks from getting inside your pants.

Walking & Jogging Safety Tips

Photo Credit: Carol Walker CC-BY-SA-2.0 2010
Walking is an excellent way to lose weight, lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Walking and jogging are ideal ways to get a good cardio workout and strengthen your body. If you are walking or jogging outdoors, there are a few things to keep in mind to stay safe. 
Walk or jog with a friend, a group or  in a public place where other people are around. Many public parks provide scenic walking and jogging trails. When the weather is nice, these trails attract the casual walker and serious exerciser alike. There will probably be lots of people around during pleasant weather. Some trails are closed at night and holidays, so be sure to check with city’s park management for walking trail schedules. Avoid walking or jogging in isolated areas alone or in the dark. Don’t walk in unfamiliar areas or unlit streets. If you must walk or jog alone carry personal protection, such as an emergency whistle or personal pepper spray. Contact your local law enforcement agency for training and tips about personal protection devices. Always carry your cell phone with you when walking or jogging alone. Let someone know where you will be at all times and the approximate time you should return home. Write your phone number and the phone number of a friend or relative on a sticker and attach it to your shoe lace or on  a wrist band.
Always wear a medical alert bracelet if you have any medical condition that may require emergency treatment. If you suffer from asthma, diabetes or take any type of prescription medication regularly make sure your medical alert bracelet contains this information. Don’t wear headphones and listen to music when walking or jogging in public areas or near a street or highway. You won’t be able to hear a car or a person coming up behind you. Avoid talking on your cell phone when walking. It is just as distracting to talk and walk as it is to talk and drive.  Remain alert when walking or jogging. 

For more safety tips for walkers, joggers and runners, see:
Mount St. Mary’s University, Walking & Running Safety Tips 

Springfield Missouri Police Department, Safety Tips for Walking at Night