Olympian Advice on Preventing Sports Injuries
Neither Olympians nor
weekend warriors are immune to tendinitis, ankle
sprains, low back problems and knee pain. While
common, these injuries can often be prevented with
"Activities like tennis, softball, cycling,
volleyball or basketball can cause people to exert a
lot of pressure on their muscles and joints," says
Scott Rodeo, M.D., a former competitive swimmer who
was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Committee
"The most common cause of injury is going too far,
too fast, too soon, but it can often be prevented if
you bring the body along slowly," adds Rodeo.
PREPARE TO PLAY
Before starting or changing an exercise program, get
the OK from your health care provider. Once you're
cleared, start your workouts gently and slowly, and
work up to more aggressive training or play.
"IF you normally walk two miles a day and want to
improve your fitness, don't suddenly jump to 4
miles," says Dr. Rodeo. "Slowly build up to more
miles until you reach your goal."
Before starting your workout, always warm up first.
Your warm-up should include 3 minutes to 5 minutes
of low-level cardiovascular exercise such as light
jogging, brisk walking or cycling, and easy movement
patterns mimicking your sports activity.
When your muscles have warmed up, you should
stretch, focusing on the muscles you will use in
your exercise routine. Hold each stretch for 20
seconds to 60 seconds.
Don't stretch to the point of pain.
When you begin your exercise, listen to your body.
If you feel pain, stop. "As you age, you may find
you lose flexibility or your body can't tolerate the
same activities it once did,"
Rodeo says. "You can prevent injury by modifying
your activities to accommodate your abilities."
After finishing your exercise routine, take time for
a cool-down. A cool-down can help minimize light
headedness and sore muscles, the American College of
Sports Medicine (ACSM) says. During your cool down,
decrease the intensity of your exercise. Continue
this for 5 minutes to 10 minutes and follow with
light stretching, the ACSM says.
USE GOOD TECHNIQUE
Learn the correct technique-and practice it.
"Olympic athletes work long and hard to maximize
their movement patterns and allow for efficient
movement," says Rodeo.
Lessons are a worthwhile investment, whether you're
a beginner or have been playing sports for a long
time. Proper form and instruction reduce the chances
of developing an overuse injury, such as tendinitis
or stress fractures.
In addition to good technique, you should use the
proper equipment for your sport. Bicycle helmets,
kneepads and protective goggles are examples of
equipment must fit properly and be worn
consistently. Make sure what use is in good
STRIVE FOR REGULAR EXERCISE
Don't be a "weekend warrior." Compressing your
physical activity into a day or two can lead to
overuse injuries and won't improve your fitness. Try
to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical
activity three or four times a week.
Develop a fitness program that includes not only
aerobic exercise, but also strength training and
"Besides providing a total-body workout, a balanced
program will keep you from getting bored and reduce
your chance for injury, Rodeo says.