Sprains and strains: looking after your muscles and joints
Exercise is a vital component of a healthy life. People who exercise regularly reap numerous benefits, ranging from reduced stress and anxiety to weight loss and better quality of life.
Unfortunately, exercising can also lead to injuries if not done correctly. Excessive exercising, poor warming up and inappropriate exercise gear can result in serious injuries. For this reason, individuals are cautioned to learn proper exercises and to listen to their body as they work out.
It is deceptively easy to pick up an injury due to overexertion. Some exercises and activities also put additional pressure and tension on the body’s joints than others, exposing individuals to sprains and strains. Jumping, jogging and lifting are just a few examples of such activities.
Sprains and strains
Many people mistakenly assume strains and sprains refer to the same injuries. However, the two are quite different.
A sprain normally occurs when a person tears or overextends a ligament – the elastic tissue found in the knee, elbow, wrist or ankle. Sometimes, a snap or pop can be heard when a sprain happens and the joint often swells. Ankle sprains often occur when walking or exercising on uneven surfaces. They are also common when participating in high impact sports such as tennis or basketball. Knee sprains often occur when a person suddenly pivots or as the result of a bad landing after a jump. The wrists or elbows are often sprained when trying to break a fall.
A strain, on the other hand, refers to damage to a muscle in the body or to the tendon that links a particular muscle to the bone. They usually occur when muscles get stretched suddenly or unexpectedly, often in awkward ways. For instance, back strains normally occur when a person bends at the waist to lift very heavy objects. Strains can be either acute or chronic. The latter is common among people who work in conditions that require prolonged or repetitive muscle movements such as gymnasts, tennis players or golfers.
Prevention and care
The first thing to do after a strain or sprain is to rest the injured body part. The next step is to apply an ice compress to the area. If excessive pain coupled by swelling occurs, then the individual should seek medical treatment. Failure to properly treat or rest a sprained body part can lead to chronic pain as well as extensive damage to the bones, joint tissues and tendons.
As in all things, prevention of sprains and strains is better than treatment. The key to preventing these injuries lies in correctly warming up before any exercise session. Warming up loosens the muscles, increasing their range of motion and making it easier for the person to move.
Another great prevention method is to wear proper protective gear when exercising. For added support, compression tights, ankle braces or knee, wrist and elbow pads can be used.
Finally, attention should be paid to the body’s warning signs to slow down when tired or in pain. Additionally, it is equally important to practice proper flexibility and balance to avoid injury when exercising.