This information guide has been designed to give you some top tips that we hope will keep you safe and injury free. We also have some information guides on tendon pain, knee pain amongst others. To see our full list of guides please go to the Client Info page.
There are some simple steps we can all make to reduce our risk of injury and improve our general health and wellbeing. The majority of sport and fitness related injuries occur because of simple avoidable errors in training. Too much, too hard, too soon, with too little rest will increase the risk of injury.
Listen to your body
Many of us may not have exercised regularly for months or years. However, your body is amazing and with the right training and time it will adapt; getting stronger, fitter and more flexible.
It is important to listen to your body and learn when to push and when to back off.
When we start to exercise it is normal to feel some discomfort in our muscles and joints both during and after exercise. This discomfort is our bodies ‘alarm’ to let us know we are putting new and unusual stress through our tissues. Like any alarm it is designed to sound long before any damage or injury occurs. Think of it like the petrol warning light on your car.
When we exercise the tank adapts and the body learns to run more efficiently meaning that we have to go much further before the warning light shows. To use the car analogy you upgrade to a new more efficient car as well as becoming a better driver.
It is important to note that sometimes the discomfort associated with exercise can be quite painful even though there is no tissue damage. For those who have not exercised for a while these sensations can be both unpleasant and concerning. It is useful to remember that this pain is often just a sign that the exercise is having its desired effect and the body will eventually adapt to the new stress by becoming stronger.
Some people find massage is helpful when they are training hard. Although our body is quite capable of recovering on its own, massage can help to reduce the soreness associated with exercise. Sports massage is a type of massage that is popular. You can find out more about this on our Sports Massage page.
When to seek medical help
Most sprains and strains are relatively minor and can be treated at home (see below).
However, you should visit a Minor Injuries Unit, your GP or Chartered physiotherapist if you think you have a sprain or strain and:
- the pain is particularly severe
- you can’t move the injured joint or muscle
- you can’t put any weight on the injured limb or it gives way when you try to use it
- the injured area looks crooked or has unusual lumps or bumps (other than swelling)
- you have numbness, discolouration or coldness in any part of the injured area
- the symptoms haven’t started to improve within a few days of self treatment
Treating sprains and strains
If the injury is minor, you can look after yourself by using “PRICE therapy” and “avoiding HARM”. These are described below.
PRICE stands for:
- Protection– protect the affected area from further injury by using a support or, in the case of an ankle injury, wearing shoes that enclose and support your feet, such as lace-ups.
- Rest– stop the activity that caused the injury and rest the affected joint or muscle. Avoid activity for the first 48 to 72 hours after injuring yourself. Your GP may recommend you use crutches.
- Ice– for the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury; apply ice wrapped in a damp towel to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours during the day. Don’t leave the ice on while you’re asleep, and don’t allow the ice to touch your skin directly because it could cause a cold burn.
- Compression– compress or bandage the injured area to limit any swelling and movement that could damage it further. You can use a simple elastic bandage or an elasticated tubular bandage available from a pharmacy. It should be wrapped snuggly around the affected area, but not so tightly that it restricts blood flow. Remove the bandage before you go to sleep.
- Elevation– keep the injured area raised and supported on a pillow to help reduce swelling. If your leg is injured, avoid long periods of time where your leg isn’t raised.
For further information on this please see our Injury Treatment Guide.
For the first 72 hours after a sprain or muscle strain, you should avoid HARM. This means you should avoid:
- Heat– such as hot baths, saunas or heat packs.
- Alcohol– drinking alcohol will increase bleeding and swelling, and slow healing.
- Running– or any other form of exercise that could cause more damage.
- Massage– which may increase bleeding and swelling.
Moving sprained joints
Most healthcare professionals recommend you don’t stop using a sprained joint. The injury will heal quicker if you begin to move the joint as soon as you’re able to do so without experiencing significant pain.
A physiotherapist may be able to teach you a number of exercises that will help you improve the joint’s functionality.
Immobilising strained muscles
Depending on your injury, the advice for muscle strains can vary. You may be advised to keep your injured muscle still for the first few days. Your Doctor or Physiotherapist may recommend using a brace, cast or splint to help keep it as still as possible.
The aim of immobilising the muscle is to allow it to start healing, so you can move it without tearing or pulling it again in the same place. After a few days, you’ll probably be advised to start using the muscle again.
Physiotherapy aims to restore movement and function to an injured area of the body. The physiotherapist may show you exercises to help improve the range of motion and return normal function to the injured area.
This may reduce your risk of experiencing long-term problems or injuring the area again.
If you are considering Physiotherapy we would recommend you choose a Chartered Physiotherapist.
Preventing sprains and strains
To help prevent sprains and strains, you should warm up properly before exercising and wear suitable footwear. Conditioning and strengthening exercises can also help.
Including regular stretching and strengthening exercises as part of an overall physical conditioning programme can reduce your risk of sprains and strains by helping your joints stay strong and flexible.
If you’re prone to sprains and strains, taping, strapping or wrapping your knees, ankles, wrists or elbows can help while you’re recovering from injury and when you first get back into regular activities.
For most people, however, taping, strapping or wrapping should only be a short-term protective measure. You can protect your joints in the long-term by strengthening and conditioning the muscles around them.
Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it.
Now that you are starting a new exercise programme it is important that your body gets the time to recover. As well as helping with your training and recovery, sleep can have a number off additional benefits that will help you to stay healthy:
Sleep boosts immunity and healing
If you seem to catch every cold and flu that’s going around, your bedtime could be to blame. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you’re less able to fend off bugs.
Sleep helps with your weight loss journey!
Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese. It’s believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone).
Sleep boosts mental wellbeing
Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it’s not surprising that chronic sleep deprivation may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
If you have difficulty falling asleep, a regular bedtime routine will help you wind down and prepare for bed.
Your routine depends on what works for you, but the most important thing is working out a routine and sticking to it. Below are some simple tips:
Sleep at regular times
Keep regular sleeping hours. This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine. Most adults need between six and nine hours of sleep every night. By working out what time you need to wake up, you can set a regular bedtime schedule.
Make sure you wind down
Winding down is a critical stage in preparing for sleep. There are lots of ways to relax:
- A warm bath (not hot) will help your body reach a temperature that’s ideal for rest.
- Writing “to do” lists for the next day can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions.
- Relaxation exercises, such as light stretches, help to relax the muscles. This is also a great way to help reduce the muscle soreness associated with hard physical exercise
Make your bedroom sleep-friendly
Your bedroom should be a relaxing environment. Your bedroom ideally needs to be dark, quiet, tidy and be kept at a temperature of between 18C and 24C.
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. Pressure turns into stress when you feel unable to cope. People have different ways of reacting to stress, so a situation that feels stressful to one person may be motivating to someone else.
Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. In fact, common signs of stress include sleep problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty with concentration.
Once the pressure or threat has passed, your stress hormone levels will usually return to normal. However, if you’re constantly under stress, these hormones will remain in your body, leading to the symptoms of stress. Stress has been shown to reduce our bodies ability to heal from injury and recover following exercise.
Managing stress in daily life
There is little you can do to prevent stress, but there are many things you can do to manage stress more effectively, such as learning how to relax and taking regular exercise.
Most injuries are preventable. Your body is going to undergo a number of very positive changes over the next 12 weeks. Some muscle and joint soreness is inevitable but with the right management you should be able to manage this by yourself. Ensure you eat well, get enough sleep, manage stress and relax to help you recover between sessions and give your body the best opportunity to make the positive changes that are possible with the programme. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.