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Avoiding, treating injuries from exercising

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Costa said sports provide their own injury risks, like soccer players being more susceptible to leg injuries.

Along with every exercise, sport and physical activity comes the risk of injury, but there are ways to decrease one's risk and minimize recovery time, depending on the person and the exercise, according to our next guest.

Dr. Pablo Costa, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Development at California State University, Fullerton, joined us on “Take Care” to discuss exercise injuries -- how to avoid them and how to treat them.

Costa, who is also chair of the National Strength and Conditioning Association Research Committee, said some of the more common injuries associated with exercise are injuries related to overuse or incorrect exercises like sprains. Each sport also has its own more common injury, like leg injuries for soccer players and arm injuries for volleyball players.

In addition to the exercise, a person’s age can largely impact how susceptible they are to an exercise-related injury, Costa said.

“As individuals get older, they’re also decreasing the intensity of the activity,” Costa said. “What does happen, though, is they do take longer to heal compared to somebody who’s younger.”

For some, exercising routines are based almost entirely on weekend activity, and Costa said risk of injury for such a schedule is still relatively low, as long as the person does not skip several weeks.

“The problem is the lack of consistency,” Costa said. “The biggest issue that we have, typically [it] is going to be as individuals get older, is going to be the individuals who seldomly exercise.”

Costa said weekly exercise, depending on the intensity, can still have health benefits, but only once a month or even less frequently is not sufficient enough to make a difference for health.

Some exercise is extreme in nature -- things like running marathons or  races where people run a 5k (or more) over difficult terrain. There is also high intensity interval training, a combination of aerobic exercise and weight lifting at maximum capacity for short periods of time.

In these cases, Costa said, there is no greater risk of injury compared to less intensive exercises, though it does depend on the person. Individuals who are attracted to those activities tend to be better prepared for high-intensity activities, he said. However, exercises like marathons can cause hip splints, so it is important to make sure one’s form is correct and they have a foundation of their fitness level before engaging in such an intense workout.

When exercise injuries occur, treating them effectively is very important, Costa said. A general rule of thumb is to monitor pain levels and location -- if the pain becomes acute, ice or heat pads are not enough.

“It’s hard for a layperson to really know their body that well if they haven’t been training,” Costa said. “If they feel severe, if it’s a lot of pain, you should see a physician.”

Recovery can be influenced by age as well as injury, Costa said. As people get older, recovery takes longer, and people have to recover more from mild exercise.

Costa said there are several ways people can avoid getting injuries in the first place when exercising, including warming up with exercise-specific behaviors.

“You want to warm up the muscles specifically that you’re going to be using,” Costa said.

Though it is a common thought to stretch before a workout, Costa said that actually decreases power, strength and ability.

“You might actually increase your risk of injury after stretching,” he said. “Stretching is important, but you want to do that after the activity is done. You still have the improvements in flexibility, you still have those health benefits, that flexibility is extremely important, but you’re not going to see the negative consequences from stretching done before the exercise.”