Last week, I ended up in the Emergency Room with severe pain and swelling in the area behind my right knee. My thoughts immediately went to “blood clot,” but an ultrasound of my leg ruled the blood clot out. The doctor wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but thought it might be a pulled hamstring. He put me in an 18″ leg brace and sent me home.
By the end of the next day, my leg was fine–no more pain or swelling. But after walking on the treadmill again a few days ago (and only one mile, to play it safe), my leg started bothering me again. I wasn’t in severe pain this time, but had a general “soreness” in the same area.
When I saw my general practitioner today, she basically dismissed these complaints, and didn’t even bother to look at my leg. (Time to find a new doctor?!) I will be talking to the exercise physiologist at the health club tomorrow, and if the pain or soreness continues after a couple more weeks, I will seek out a sports physician.
Whether you’re new to exercise or have an established exercise routine, you should know how to prevent injuries associated with exercising. The American College of Emergency Physicians offers the following tips for exercise safety:
- Warm up! “Warming up is the most important thing you can do for yourself,” says Helen Connolly, MD, FACEP, an emergency physician in Chicago, Illinois. “A good 5-10 minute warm up brings the body’s temperature up and makes you less prone to injury.” To warm up, start out with a 5-minute walk, followed by another 5 minutes of stretching exercises.
- Maintain your exercise routine. “Don’t overdo it. Be sure to exercise at a level that you feel comfortable. Talk to your doctor before you begin any new exercise routines,” says Dr. Connolly.
- After exercising, be sure to cool down. This is just as important as warming up to keep muscles from being injured. Again, you can do the same thing for cooling down (short, slower-paced walk, followed by stretching) as you did for warming up.
- Invest in quality footwear. Improper or worn-out shoes stress your hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Buy the right type of shoes for your fitness category (cross-training, walking, running, etc.). Replace athletic shoes on a regular basis (every year or 400 miles of walking/running, whichever comes first).
- Vary your activities to prevent favoring certain muscles. An imbalance between the trained muscles and weaker, tighter muscles increases your risk of injury.
- According to the physical therapists of the University Health Service at U.C. Berkeley, it is also important to cut down on the intensity of exercise if you are tired or have had insufficient sleep.
Despite all of the above precautions, what if you DO end up with a sports or exercise-induced injury? For a sprain, follow the RICE treatment:
R: Rest the involved extremity from any strenuous activity for the first 48 hours.
I: Ice the injury for 15-20 minutes, six times daily for the first 48 hours.
C: Compression bandages should be applied well above and below the injury site.
E: Elevate the extremity to 45 degrees to reduce swelling.
With your doctor’s “OK”, you can also take an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen, to control pain and inflammation.
Seek medical help for severe pain or numbness, an injured joint, loss of movement, a minor injury which doesn’t improve or heal in three weeks, or when intuition or experience tells you that you have a serious injury.
Remember, pain does NOT equal gain. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Practice prevention!