Whether you’re a newcomer to exercise or you’ve been at it for a long time, you’re at risk of injuries. Although most heal quickly and completely, as we age the damage can be greater and the recovery may be slower. Knowing how to recognize the most common exercise injuries, how to treat them and when to see a doctor will help ensure that you’re not sidelined for long.
You’ll know you’ve overstretched a muscle when you feel a sharp pain. But you may not feel the tenderness, swelling or stiffness until later, usually when you wake up the next morning.
What to do: Try the RICE treatment (see sidebar). Also, try not to use the muscle for several days or while pain is still present.
When to see a doctor: If you’re in a lot of pain or the swelling is severe. Your doctor may prescribe a painkiller or recommend using a sling or crutches to help keep you from using the injured area.
Sprains occur when you stretch or tear the ligaments that hold bones together. The ankles, knees and fingers are the most common areas for sprains to occur. You may be able to use the joint somewhat, but it will be painful, tender, swollen and perhaps bruised.
What to do: Try the RICE treatment. After a day or two, start to exercise the joint gently, but try not to overuse the joint or put any weight on it until swelling and pain subside.
When to see a doctor: If the pain or swelling is severe, lasts more than two to three days or you’re unable to walk (in the case of an ankle or a knee sprain). It’s often hard to tell a severe sprain from a broken bone, so X-rays may be necessary.
The term shin splint refers to pain in the front of the leg below the knee. The cause of this type of pain can be one of several injuries, including a muscle tear, swelling in the thin membrane (periosteum) that covers bone surfaces or a stress fracture in one of the two large bones that make up the lower leg (the fibula and tibia). These injuries commonly occur in people who have just started exercising after a period of inactivity, changed their exercise routine or started exercising on a new surface (perhaps harder than the one to which they’re accustomed).
What to do: Stop the activity that’s causing pain and try the RICE treatment. Rest the legs for three to six weeks.
When to see a doctor: If pain is severe or you’re unable to walk. You may have a stress fracture.