5 Tips for Preventing Injuries in Sports & Exercise

Sports are a fun way to stay active—whether you’re in a competitive league or just meet up with friends a couple of times a week. And, while regular physical activity is an important part of your overall health, it does pose certain risks, such as injury. Most injuries happen accidentally, but many can be preventable.

One of the best preventative measures any athlete can take is simply getting the right nutrients, proper hydration, and rest. It can also be one of the most overlooked measures. Staying hydrated, proper nutrition, and consistent sleep are the foundation of not only preventing many types of common injuries, but they’re critical to being able to perform well and reap the benefits physical activity provides. Nutrition and sleep are much more complex than they might appear, and everyone’s body is unique. Talk with your healthcare provider to develop a plan right for your needs.

Identifying your goals and making an appropriate plan can help prevent injuries. It would be great to be able to roll out of bed in the morning and run that marathon you’ve had on your bucket list. But without a sound workout plan, it’s not something people can just do. With a goal, even one as lofty as running a marathon, you can gradually increase your activity over time. This allows your body to gradually adjust without putting sudden stress and strain on your muscles, bones, and ligaments. Again, your healthcare provider can help put a plan together that will not only help you achieve goals, but achieve them safely.

Warming up prior to physical activity is an important way to avoid injury. Warming up, particularly the muscle groups you’ll be using, raises your body temperature and signals the cardiovascular system to increase blood flow to your muscles. “Cold” muscles are more likely to be injured, whereas properly “warm” muscles better respond to stress associated with the rigors of physical activity.

Resting is necessary to avoid injury. Taking regular days off allows your body to recover. Sustained fatigue increases your chances of an injury. While it’s fun and healthy to push yourself, taking a day to slow down will go a long way toward avoiding painful and potentially lingering injuries.

Almost everyone has a favorite sport or activity, and it can be really easy to participate in that activity exclusively. Believe it or not, only playing one type of sport or concentrating on a singular type of exercise can increase your chances of injury. If you train your body to move in the same way for long periods of time and to react to certain stimuli the same way every time, a sudden change in movement or stimulus can lead to injury. For example, a football player who works at high levels of intensity for short periods of time can become fatigued quickly in a basketball game. This is because basketball is a sport where players remain at a moderate level of intensity but for much longer periods of time. Another example is a runner playing soccer for the first time in a long time. While soccer features a great deal of running, it isn’t in a straight line and requires players to start and stop quickly, kick and defend the ball, and change directions very suddenly.

Make sure you have the right shoes. This becomes more important as you become more involved in an activity and are involved at a higher level. But, at any level, wearing a shoe designed for an entirely different activity increases your chances of sustaining an injury, particularly to your feet and knees. Running shoes are not designed to be worn on the basketball court. Weightlifting shoes make terrible football cleats. Track spikes are not good distance-running shoes. People can, and have, made the wrong shoes work, but routinely putting the wrong shoes on your feet is inviting an unnecessary injury.

Injuries are an unfortunate reality of any sport or physical activity. The good news is that working with your healthcare provider and taking simple precautions can significantly decrease your chances of having to take some unplanned time off.