So you want to take up golf, tennis, or some other sport? Diving right into it without taking the proper precautions will put you on the fast track to injury—especially if you were a couch potato all winter.
Here are some tips on how to avoid the most common sports injuries, including swollen muscles, sprains and strains, shin splints, knee and Achilles tendon injuries, fractures, and dislocations:
Get a physical: Visit your doctor before you start a new sport or fitness routine, especially if you’ve been injured before, have not exercised in three months, or have a medical condition.
Build up slowly: Increase your activity level by no more than 10 percent a week. If you start with 15-minute walks on your first week, for example, add only a few minutes at a time each consecutive week. Mix up your routine with various low-impact activities—such as walking, swimming, and biking—to work out different body parts.
Exercise sport-specific: Sports such as golf, tennis, and volleyball require repetitive movements that can strain and tear muscles and tendons. So make sure you strengthen the relevant muscle groups for your sport beforehand. Elbow problems, for example, are one of the most common injuries for golfers. So if you’re planning to take up golf, build up your forearms by squeezing a tennis ball or doing wrist curls.
Take lessons: Proper technique is critical to avoiding overuse injuries such as tendonitis and stress fractures. So taking a few lessons in your sport—even if you’ve played before—would be very helpful.
Warm up and cool down: Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes to increase blood flow to the muscles and help your flexibility. A good warm-up includes an easy cardiovascular workout followed by simple stretching. Stretch slowly, and don’t bounce! Cool down in a similar fashion to gradually reduce the muscles’ temperature.
Wear the right protective gear for your sport: Helmets are necessary for biking, skiing, snowboarding, and rollerblading; and for team sports such as football, hockey, baseball, and lacrosse. Protective eyewear and mouth guards are also important to prevent injuries. Running shoes are great for marathons, but don’t offer enough support for basketball, soccer or tennis. Make sure all equipment fits well and is in good condition.
Don’t be a “weekend warrior”: Try to exercise a little bit each day rather than cramming all of your activities into the weekend. Sitting on the couch all week and then playing 36 holes of golf on Saturday and Sunday is a recipe for injury.
Know when to quit: Muscle fatigue increases your risk of all sports injuries. So stop playing when you feel tired and give your body some time to rest.
Don’t play while injured: If you do get hurt, stop playing until you are healed. Continuing to play will only make the injury worse and can lead to chronic problems.