Prevent & Treat Common Workout Injuries

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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.


3 Pilates Exercises for Your Abs

Stretch for Flexibility

Photo Credit: José Vílchez

Getting and keeping a firm, toned abdomen can become increasingly difficult as we age. Some increase in belly fat may be due to aging, but a more sedentary lifestyle combined with high calorie diets can also pack on the pounds around your waist. When women reach middle age, hormonal changes mean that excess calories are stored as fat around your belly, on your hips and on your thighs. Weight gain and an increased waist line is not inevitable. Staying active, exercising and cutting calories can help get you trim and keep you fit. Pilates is a good way to work your abs while strengthening your arms and legs.

The toe dip Pilates move will work all of your abs, especially your obliques and lower abs. Lie on your back and bend your knees. Lift your legs, with your knees bent, until your thighs are straight and your calves are parallel to the floor. Place your hands on the floor on each side of your thighs with your palms down. Squeeze your belly and breathe in. Point your toes and lower one foot toward the floor. Keep your knees bent. Stop just an inch or two inches above the floor. Hold the position for 2 to 3 seconds and then exhale as you bring your leg back to the start position. Repeat 10 times on each side. You can do 10 repetitions with one leg and then 10 more with the other leg, or alternate legs until you do 10 repetitions on each side.

Leg circles work all of your ab muscles while strengthening your legs. Lie on the floor with your legs stretched out. Raise one leg toward the ceiling and point your toes. Make sure your hands are placed palms down on either side of your thighs. Make 10 small circles with your toes toward the left and then 10 small circles to the right. Bring your leg back to the floor and repeat on the other side.

Finish off your Pilates ab workout by doing a set of leg kicks. Lie on one side of your body with your legs straight out. Place one leg on top of the other and support your upper body on your elbow. Lift your ribs off the floor. Place your other hand (the one that is not supporting your weight) on the floor in front of your tummy to support your body and provide stability. Raise your top leg a few inches and point your toes. Swing your leg forward in front of your body as far as is comfortable for you. Hold the position for 2 seconds and then swing your leg back to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions on each side.


Benefits of Yoga

Photo Credit: Yoga4Love Public Domain
Yoga is an excellent way to calm your mind, stretch your muscles and improve your level of fitness. Some people envision bodies contorted like pretzels when they think about yoga. Yoga is a great way to stretch all the muscles of your body, improve your range of motion and get a good non-aerobic workout. Stretching your muscles releases stored lactic acid from the muscle tissues that causes stiffness, soreness and tension in your muscles. There are different styles of yoga each designed for different outcomes. Power yoga, called ashtanga, is a vigorous style of exercise that will improve your muscle tone. Iyengar style yoga focuses on precise poses that improve strength and endurance. Standing positions can improve the strength in your legs and abdominal muscles as well as improve balance. 
Yoga helps improve your posture. Standing and sitting positions help to strengthen your core and your back muscles. Holding yoga poses strengthens the abdominal and back muscles. Stronger core muscles helps you to maintain good posture throughout the day whether you are sitting, standing or walking. The more you practice yoga poses, the more aware you become of your body and your posture. You are less likely to slump when sitting and to stand up straight because of increased body awareness.
Deep breathing exercises when doing yoga can improve your lung capacity. Deeper breathing increases the oxygen in your blood, which can improve your performance and endurance when doing more strenuous exercise. Deep breathing yoga exercises also helps you to relax by reducing the amount of adrenalin in your body. 

People who suffer from neck, spine, and shoulder injuries should not do yoga or any other stretching exercise without a doctor’s approval. Those who suffer from osteoporosis and pregnant women should also avoid yoga exercises. See your doctor before beginning a yoga program. Don’t try to do yoga on your own. Find a qualified yoga fitness instructor so that you learn the proper way to perform yoga poses and stretches. 

Smart Workouts

Photo Credit: Kelly Gary USDOD PD
There are many myths about exercise. Despite the infomercials and wild promises, losing weight and getting in shape requires regular exercise and a healthy diet. There is no “magic” pill or overnight miracle exercise. You can make the most of your exercise program to shed more pounds faster and avoid injury. Make the most of the time you do have for exercise by working out smarter, not harder.
You’ve probably heard the expression “no pain, no gain.” Exercise shouldn’t cause pain. You may experience some mild soreness in your muscles if you are a beginner or if you try a new exercise, but persistent or sharp pain may indicate an injury. Mild soreness in the muscle tissue may be expected after a vigorous workout, especially if you try a new routine. Soreness that lasts for more than a couple of days, especially if accompanied by swelling or discoloration of the skin may indicate an injury that requires medical attention. If you feel any sudden, sharp or severe pain during exercise, stop immediately. See your doctor if the pain persists. 
One way to exercise smarter and help avoid injury is to warm-up before and cool-down after exercise by stretching your body. Many people don’t take the time to warm-up and to cool-down because of busy lifestyles and little time. Warm-up and cool-down for about 5 to 10 minutes. The warm-up will help prepare your muscles for more strenuous exercise to help you avoid injury. The cool-down will help your muscles begin to repair any tiny tears in the tissue, which causes muscle soreness. 
To get the most out of your workout each week, balance the three types of exercise: strength training, aerobic exercise and flexibility. Strength training includes resistance band exercises, weight lifting and isometric exercises that use your own body weight to strengthen muscles, such as push-ups and planks. Any exercises that gets your heart rate up is an aerobic exercise. Walking, running, swimming, riding a bicycle or playing a high-intensity game like tennis or basketball will get your heart pumping and your body sweating. Stretching and balance exercises help improve your flexibility. Yoga, tai chi, balance board exercises or just stretching out your muscles by reaching and bending can help improve your flexibility. 
You don’t have to work out for extended periods of time. You can spread it out over the day in 10-minute intervals. Spreading out your exercise throughout the day is a smart way to workout. Everyone should strive to get about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every week. You can cut the time spent exercising in half by getting 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise weekly. Exercise daily to keep your metabolism up and your body in fat-burning mode. Exercise for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes midday and 10 minutes in the late afternoon or early evening to get the minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. 

No Equipment Thigh Strengthening Exercises

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Strong thighs are important for bearing the weight of your body, endurance and balance. Weak or under-developed thigh muscles may be susceptible to injury from exercise. You can strengthen your thighs without the need for equipment. Stretches and jumping exercises can help you strengthen your thighs. 
Kneeling thigh stretches are easy to perform, but don’t let the ease of this exercise fool you! It’s a powerful way to strengthen and tone your thigh muscles. Kneel on the floor or on an exercise mat for comfort. Keep your knees about hip-width apart. Your toes should be pointing at the wall behind you and your weight on your leg from your knees, down your shin and across the top of your foot. Stretch your torso up tall toward the ceiling and squeeze your abdominal muscles. Don’t drop your chin, but keep your head up looking straight ahead. When you are ready, shift your weight back and bring your hips toward your heels. Move your arms back and brace yourself by placing your fingertips on the floor on either side of your legs. Hold this position for 10 to 20 seconds and then return to the start position. Do 5 to 7 repetitions of this exercise. Increase the length of time you hold the position and the number of repetitions as your strength and endurance increase.  
Jump and reach to stretch your thigh muscles and increase flexibility. Begin by standing in an upright position with your legs hip-width apart and your arms relaxed at your side. Shift your weight back on your hips and lower yourself toward a sitting position, as in a squat. When you feel your heels lift off the floor, reach your arms upward toward the ceiling and push your body upward from your feet, through your legs and thighs in an explosive push toward the ceiling. The momentum of swinging your arms up with a simultaneous push upwards will help you reach high.

Exercise While Pregnant

Photo Credit: Swangerschaft CC-BY-SA-2.0 2010

Pregnant women who exercised regularly before pregnancy can continue to exercise, if they take a few precautions. As long as you are in good health, not at risk for miscarriage and do not engage in strenuous exercise, a pregnant woman can enjoy regular physical exercise. Women who have not been physically active or engaged only in light, occasional physical activity before pregnancy should not start an exercise program more strenuous than walking. You are going to need strength and stamina to get through your pregnancy and delivery. Check with your doctor before beginning or continuing any exercise program. Women who are pregnant may benefit from light exercise in many ways. Walking and stretching exercises can help to relieve low back pain and prevent excessive weight gain. Swimming is a whole body aerobic exercise that most pregnant women can safely do throughout pregnancy to remain fit and control weight gain. Excess weight gain during pregnancy can contribute to gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and may even contribute to postpartum conditions like depression. Pregnant women who experience pregnancy-related conditions or are at risk for certain conditions should not exercise except on the advice and supervision of their doctor. Those who are at risk and should avoid exercise include women who are at risk for miscarriage or who have had a miscarriage in the past, history of premature delivery, bleeding or spotting and those with weak cervix or low placenta. Stretching exercises are especially helpful to maintain muscle tone and help to maintain flexibility. Stretching is important before other exercise, including walking, using a treadmill or swimming, to help reduce the risk of muscle strain. 

Begin a stretching exercise session with your neck and work your way to your feet. Sit in a comfortable chair or sit on the floor in a comfortable position. Place your hands on your thighs palms down and sit up straight and tall. Relax your shoulders and  your neck, and then drop your chin forward toward your chest. Rotate your whole head toward your right shoulder and then back to the middle of your chest. Continue rotating to the left shoulder and then back to your chest. Repeat this stretching exercise 5 times. 

Stretch your arms and shoulders to help relieve upper back stress and energize your whole body. Sit up straight, drop your shoulders down and back to straighten your back. Stretch your right arm forward and lean to the right stretching toward your fingertips. Return your right arm back to your side and then stretch forward with your left arm, and lean forward with your body stretching toward your left fingertips. Alternate back and forth in a swimming motion. Repeat this exercise for 10 repetitions. 
Kegel exercises during pregnancy strengthen the muscles of the abdominal floor that support the uterus, intestines and bladder. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor and your arms relaxed at your sides. Sit up straight, tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor and then relax the muscles. To tighten the muscles in your pelvic floor, pretend that you are trying to stop the flow of urine midstream. Squeeze the muscles that you would use to stop your urine. Perform Kegel exercises anytime of the day, as often as you want, but try to do at least 10 sets of five contractions each day. Hold each muscle contraction for 5 to 8 seconds. Remember to breathe when doing Kegel exercises and do not contract your abdominal muscles while performing this exercise. 
Walking is a safe, effective form of aerobic exercise that can help a pregnant woman control her weight gain, remain physically fit and feel energized. Take extra precautions when walking while pregnant to avoid falls. Walk on smooth, flat areas such as sidewalks and walking trails. Do not walk when your path is covered in snow, ice or rain, which can make surfaces slippery and may result in a fall. Walk with a partner or a friend and avoid overexertion. A 20 to 30 minute walk every other day is generally safe for most pregnant women. 

For more information about safe exercises during pregnancy, see:

3 Exercises for Strong, Toned Legs

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Strong, toned, muscular legs are more than just physically attractive. Strong legs support your body and carry you through the day. Strong legs also improve your balance and posture. If your leg muscles are strong, you are also less likely to suffer sprains and joint pains. 
Try some single leg squats to develop your calf muscles. Stand with your hands on your hips and your feet about hip-width apart. Place your right foot slightly forward from your left foot and shift your body weight to your right foot. Tighten your abs, breathe in and then lift your left foot off the floor about 2 to 3 inches. Slowly lower your body to a sitting position. Keep your weight on your right leg, but you can rest your left toes on the floor for balance and stability, if needed. As you lower your body by bending your right knee, allow your left leg to straighten out and slide forward. Keep your back straight and try not to lean forward as you lower your body. Exhale and push back up to a standing position using your leg. Do 5 squats with each leg. 
Stretch your calf muscle for lean, toned legs. Face a wall about arm-length away and place your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Place your palms on the wall about 2 to 3 inches higher than your shoulder height. Step forward with your left leg and keep both feet on the floor. Squeeze your abs, breathe in and move your upper body toward the wall. This will stretch the calf muscle of your left leg (the leg behind). Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and then push your body back upright. Repeat this exercise 10 times for each leg. 
Stretch the hamstring on the back of your leg by lying on the floor flat on your back in a doorway. Place the back of one leg against the wall straight up from your hip. Allow the other leg to stretch out straight through the doorway. Push against the wall with the back of your leg that is parallel to the wall and point your toes toward the ceiling. Hold the position and then relax. Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times for each leg.  

Stretching At Work

Sitting at a desk all day at work can take a toll on your body. Your back can feel tired, your arms and legs feel tense and your neck may hurt. Slumping over in your chair can wreck your upper back and shoulders. Sit up straight and exercise regularly throughout the day to avoid back pain and stiff muscles. You can stretch your muscles and exercise your body while sitting at your desk. Stretching at your desk can help stimulate your circulation and help avoid an aching back. You will feel more invigorated and less tired after a few stretching exercises at your desk. 
Photo Credit: Public Domain
Begin stretching by tucking your chin. Look straight ahead and straighten your back. Drop your shoulders slightly and then tuck your chin toward your chest. Resist the urge to slump your shoulders. Tighten your abdominal muscles and keep your back straight and your shoulders back. Hold the stretch straight forward for 10 seconds. Turn your chin toward your left shoulder and hold for another 10 seconds and then turn toward your right shoulder. Return your chin to the middle of your chest. Repeat this exercise 10 times. 
Stretch your neck muscles to help relieve tension in your neck and upper back. Sit up straight in your chair with your shoulders straight and your knees together. Look straight ahead and then slowly lower your right ear toward your right shoulder. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds when you feel the muscles on your left side begin to stretch. Repeat this exercise on the other side. 
After stretching your neck, focus on your shoulders and upper back. Look straight ahead and sit up tall in your chair. Drop your shoulders slightly. Roll your shoulders in a circle toward the front 10 times and the reverse the rotation toward the back.  Next, sit up tall and push both of your shoulders back toward the back of your chair. You should feel your chest muscles stretching. Relax and then repeat 8 to 10 times.

For more information and examples of stretching at work, see:
Mayo Clinic, Slide Show: Office Stretches, 2010

Stretch for Flexibility

Warming up your muscles by stretching prior to exercise can help you improve your flexibility and avoid injury. Muscle strains and tears can be painful. A torn muscle or ligament may take weeks to heal, and in some cases, may even require surgery and rehabilitation. Take care of your muscles before exercising by performing about 10 minutes of stretching exercises. Stretching after a workout is a good way to cool down and relax your muscles.
Sit on the floor and spread your legs slightly. Keep your back straight and your chin down as you reach forward toward  your left foot. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Slowly return to an upright position and repeat on the right side. Next, stretch the muscles of your upper back by pulling your knees toward your chest. Lie on your back and put your feet flat on the floor by bending your knees. Grab one knee with your hands and gently pull your knee toward your chest. Stop when you feel the muscles in your lower back stretching. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and then repeat with the other knee. 
Photo Credit: José Vílchez, CC-BY-SA-3.0 2008
Stretch your calf muscles by standing parallel to a wall or holding onto a sturdy chair. Put your left foot behind the right and keep your right foot flat on the floor. Keep your back straight and then slowly bend your right knee to lower your body toward the floor a few inches. Bend your knee as far as you can without causing pain and hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat the stretch. 
Playing golf, tennis, handball and racquetball can result in a torn rotator cuff if you over-exert. A rotator cuff injury is painful and may require weeks of rehabilitative exercise to repair. You may avoid a rotator cuff injury by warming up with some shoulder stretches prior to exercise. To stretch your shoulder and increase flexibility, cross your right arm over your chest and hold it with your left hand just above the elbow. Gently pull your arm toward the left side of your body until you feel the muscles stretch. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat with the other arm. 
Improve your posture, increase the flexibility and strengthen the muscles in your upper back by stretching your shoulders. Stand up straight with your legs apart about shoulder width. Keep your arms relaxed at your side and the squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pull your arms back and bend your elbows slightly. Hold the stretch for 25 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat this stretch two or three times.
Leg muscles are susceptible to muscle and tendon injury if you run or jog. Stretch your hamstrings by lying on the floor with your feet near a wall.  Raise your right leg and put your heel against the wall. Keep your right knee slightly bent. Push against the wall to straighten out your right leg. You should feel the hamstring along the back of your thigh stretch. Hold the position for 20 seconds and then switch sides. Next, stretch the quadriceps muscles of your legs. Lean against a wall or hold onto a sturdy chair or table with one hand. Grab your ankle with the other hand and pull your foot toward your buttocks until you feel the muscles in the front of your thigh begin to pull and stretch. Keep your upper body straight and try to avoid slouching or leaning forward. Squeeze your abdominal muscles to help keep your body erect. Return to a standing position after about 30 seconds and then stretch the other leg.
Stretching should not cause pain. If you feel pain during a stretch, reduce the intensity of the stretch and see a doctor if soreness or swelling occur. 
For more information and stretching exercises, see:
Mayo Clinic, Stretching: Focus on Flexibility, February 2011.