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5 Tips for Preventing Sports-Related Injuries

Many people are heading outdoors to ramp up their exercise programs. But before you or your young athlete start playing, it’s important to learn how you can prevent sports-related injuries.

man stretching his leg

“Sports injuries generally occur for two different reasons: trauma and overuse,” says Dr. Andrew Cosgarea, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine expert. “And while traumatic sports injuries are usually obvious, dramatic scenes, like when we see a player fall down clutching their knee,” continues Cosgarea, who is also the head team physician for Johns Hopkins University Department of Athletics, “overuse injuries are actually more common.”

Overuse injuries often occur when the body is pushed past its current physical limits or level of conditioning — but poor technique and training errors, such as running excessive distances or performing inadequate warm-ups, frequently contribute. To help keep you or your young athlete from experiencing a sports-related injury, Cosgarea provides the following prevention tips:

1. Set realistic goals.

“I am a strong advocate for setting goals and working hard to achieve them,” Cosgarea says, “but it is crucial that our goals are realistic, achievable and sustainable.” Whether your goal is to swim more laps, lift a certain amount of weight or run a specific distance, set an obtainable goal and gradually work to improve.

2. Plan and prepare.

If you plan to begin exercising regularly or want to begin a new program, you should meet with your primary care provider first and discuss your options. Also, take the time to learn the proper techniques required for your sport or program. Working with a personal trainer or signing up for a class are often safe and enjoyable ways to start a new activity, Cosgarea suggests.

3. Warm up and cool down.

It is important to warm up before physical activity because research has shown that a heated muscle is less likely to be strained. To accomplish this, Cosgarea recommends some light walking or jogging before you start your exercise and then again afterward to help your muscles cool down slowly. Another important way to prevent injury is to increase your flexibility. This can be done by stretching before and after a workout, Cosgarea suggests, but it is best to do so once the body is already warm.

4. Take your time.

Don’t push yourself too hard too fast. Getting in shape or learning a new sport takes time. “We need to allow for adequate time to gradually increase training levels so that our bodies have time to adjust to the stresses on our bones, joints and muscles,” Cosgarea says. For instance, when running, increase mileage gradually and give yourself plenty of time to recover between workouts. 

5. Listen to your body.

Adjust your activities if your body is showing signs of too much stress. “While a mild and short-lived muscle ache is generally considered ‘good pain,’ pain in your joints is not normal and is a sign that you should cut back,” Cosgarea warns.

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