The Smart Life
How to prevent and care for summer sports injuries

If you haven’t exercised in years or have a medical condition, check with your primary healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program. Sometimes that’s easy to forget when the sun is calling you outdoors to get active.

“This time of year, it’s easy to get excited about being more active,” says Erin MacDonald, Certified Athletic Therapist (CAT(C)), and member of the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association (CATA). “But doing too much too soon or not taking the right precautions can result in an injury.”

To keep your summer fun rolling, here’s what you should know.

You don’t have to be an athlete to get injured

You may not think of yourself as athletic but, when done incorrectly, any new activity can cause an injury. If this is the summer you take up golf, join the company softball team, or dig out your bike for a neighbourhood ride, it’s important to take care and not overdo it.

“The soreness you feel a day or two after a hard workout is probably caused by the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles,” says Ms. MacDonald. “Once you get active and warm up, that lactic acid is circulated out of the muscle and the soreness goes away. However, if you experience pain during an activity and it doesn’t go away, stop what you’re doing and see a healthcare professional.”

Keeping the aches and pains away

“Prevention is key,” advises Ms. MacDonald. “It’s the most important thing you can do.” Here are some tips for preventing injuries during summer fun:

  1. Drink water. “Hydration is necessary to keep your joints and muscles working properly. And that’s every day, not just before a workout,” she says. “If you are active or it’s really hot outside, you need more water. A good rule of thumb is to drink 250 ml of water for every half hour you sweat. That’s above what you would normally have in a day.” Plus, here’s what the Dietitians of Canada have to say about sports hydration.
  2. Stretch — once you’ve warmed up. “I recommend a dynamic warm-up,” says Ms. MacDonald. “Start by getting your blood circulating, like walking on the spot or riding a stationary bike for five minutes. Then stretch the muscles you’ll be using by taking them through a practice run; for example, swing a pretend racket or bat, alternate pulling your knees to your chest, and so on. After that, you’re ready to start your activity.”
    Expert tip: When you’ve finished your activity, a static stretch — where you hold a stretch without movement for a prolonged period of time — is best.
  3. Get the right gear. When it comes to equipment, make sure it fits right and provides proper support, and you’re wearing it correctly. Get your old equipment checked and repaired or tuned-up. Buying new? Go to a sports-specific store for the right fit and the right advice.
  4. Change things up. “Always doing the same activity increases your chance of getting a repetitive strain injury,” says our expert. “Instead, try alternating different activities that get your heart rate up for the same amount of time. For example, if you’re usually a runner or walker, ride a bike.” If range of motion is important (like when golfing, playing tennis or baseball), try yoga.
  5. Time your activity. When it’s hot and sticky outside, schedule your activity for the early morning or later in the day when it’s cooler. And grab some shade regularly.
  6. Listen to your body. “Your body will tell you when it’s had enough,” says Ms. MacDonald. “And give it time to rest.” One day on, one day off is a good rule to exercise by.

Self-care: what to do and when to do it

You may be able to alleviate the pain of minor injuries yourself by using the RICE method:

  • Rest — Stay off the injured area.
  • Ice — “Put ice on the area for 15 minutes every hour, meaning 15 minutes on, 45 minutes off,” she recommends.
  • Compression — Wrap using a bandage but not so tight that you’re cutting off circulation.
  • Elevate — Elevate the injured area above heart level if you can. Use pillows for lower-body injuries.

For pain you can’t take care of yourself, you need to see a professional. “If you think you’re injured, see a healthcare professional rather than self-diagnose and self-medicate,” says Ms. MacDonald.

If you’re thinking of seeing an athletic therapist, you generally don’t need a doctor’s referral. (With some insurance benefits, you may need a doctor’s referral to have the services of an athletic therapist covered.) To find one in your area, use the search tools offered by CATA: Find an Athletic Therapist or Find a Clinic.

A final note about concussions

Concussions don’t just happen to professional athletes. “A hit doesn’t have to be severe to cause a concussion, and can include hits to the head, face or neck,” says Ms. MacDonald. Even a case of whiplash can cause one. An accidental elbow to the jaw while playing basketball, being pushed from behind during a soccer match, or getting a softball to the head can all be dangerous.

“If you have any signs of dizziness or a headache, see your doctor right away,” she says. “As with any sports injury, keep a watch for signs in your children. We all know that kids would much rather keep playing than interrupt their fun.”

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