We all know that staying physically active is the key to good health, but that's only true if you don't get hurt while exercising. The good news is that many common types of sprains and strains, including hamstring and knee injuries, can be prevented by focusing on stretching and flexibility. Below are some tips on how to stay safe and healthy while exercising.
Focus on your hamstrings Strengthening the hamstrings is a good idea because that will not only help you prevent hamstring injuries, but also help you avoid knee-related injuries because of what the hamstrings are doing. These muscles at the back of the thighs prevent the shin from moving too far forward. And hamstrings aren't just important in their own right – they also prevent serious knee-related injuries like an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear or sprain.
Hamstring curls and knee flexion exercises — where you slowly extend and bend your legs from a sitting position — are particularly beneficial for strengthening the hamstrings.
Don't forget the balance
One of the leading causes of injury will be a small surprise:falls. Of course, if your balance is better, you fall less often and get injured less. One of the things you can do to avoid getting injured from falls is to increase your stability. This means the ability to maintain balance using the muscles in your hips and legs. Lower back (legs, glutes), resistance training, and balance exercises, such as standing on an unstable surface like a stability ball, build strength and improve your ability to maintain an upright position. Stretching has also been shown to be helpful in improving long-term balance for both young and older adults, but try to do it after the activity.
Time to stretch
Avoid stretching before exercising. This causes muscle imbalance and can increase the risk of injury. You want to stretch after you exercise, not before… or at any other time of the day. A recent study looked at the effect of hamstring stretches and fatigue on strength, muscle imbalance, injury risk and overall balance. It has been found that stretching [before training] caused the negative effects, such as reduced hamstring strength or increased muscle imbalance, to occur earlier when fatigue was involved. The study concluded that stretching the hamstrings immediately prior to long-duration activities, such as long-distance running, soccer or basketball, may increase the risk of injury.
Consider rolling with it So how do you warm up tight muscles if you can't stretch? The answer could be foam rolling, a relatively recent fitness trend that involves using a large foam-based cylinder for self-massage. A study this year found that foam rolling can increase flexibility without some of the negative effects that come with stretching. One way to do this is to warm up muscles using the friction caused by the rolling motion. Foam rolling is also used as a post-workout workout to reduce muscle soreness
When you are in pain
If you're pulling a hamstring or adjusting your knee, it's a good idea to put ice on the injury; this will help to reduce inflammation. Then take the time to assess the pain, assuming it is a tissue or muscle related injury. Is the pain in the muscle or near the joint? Is the pain sharp or more painful? That's going to determine if it's something more serious or not. It shouldn't be very painful after you exercise. If the pain is sharp and/or is near a joint, see a doctor.