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How to reduce your risk of injury by managing your physical load

Published: 23 December 2021 - Fitness and Training, Injury Treatment and Prevention, Exercise

Like many of us, you are probably tackling your New Years resolutions goals with enthusiasm, energy and full force.

While this is a great mindset to have, are you taking the appropriate steps to ensure your workouts and training sessions are performed safely and efficiently? Whether your goal is to start your fitness journey, make a return to sport or even take your training to the next level, you should always strive for those goals with your overall health in mind.

Exercise ​smart​, not ​hard​.     

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t work hard during your training sessions but performing each movement correctly and safely should be your goal – this will help you avoid injury and stay in the game.

Although it’s thought that we need to be pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion with each training session, doing so actually holds your progress back!

Don’t strive for pain, or you’ll more than likely cause injury which will put you on the sidelines and threaten the effectiveness of future workouts.   

Injury prevention is one of the most important reasons to practise smart and safe exercise. Although it may feel like you’re taking strides forward when you push yourself, when an injury happens - it’s like taking 2 steps back!    

It’s important to understand the key factors that will keep you training pain-free and prevent injuries happening. Here are some tips to help:

Warming up is important

Ensuring you have a good warm up prior to exercise, particularly strength training and more vigorous activity, such as running or a sport, will help reduce your risk of injury. Examples of this can be performing body weight exercises, moving your joints through their range of motion, and foam rolling some tighter muscles.

If specific muscle groups are sore during your warmup, then you should have a lighter session and not push that area too much.

Control your physical load management

What is load management? Your physical load is how often and how intense you exert yourself in your training. An example is how often you go to the gym, how frequent you train certain muscle groups and how intense your training is.

Load management is ensuring you manage how often you train, to get the best out of your training while avoiding injuries!

Many injuries we see in practice are simply due to a patient increasing their load too much, too quickly. Your body takes time to adjust to the stresses (in your muscles and joints) of increasing physical activity. For physiotherapists, ‘load management’ is critical in starting clients on new exercise programs and for returning clients back to sport and exercise after an injury.

Using the correct form

It’s very important to use the correct form when performing any exercise, whether it be in the gym or out in the field. Not doing so puts you at a higher risk of injury, due to unnecessary stress being placed in certain joints or muscles being overworked.

Starting out with a physiotherapist in our clinical exercise class, or in a 1-on-1 can be a great start to learning the ropes.

If you do unfortunately run into an injury, what can you do about it? Here are some tips to manage your injury at home:

Have you learned the RICER rules?

Once initial emergencies have been taken care of, take the time to recite the rules of RICER. It’s important not to take an ‘I’ll see what happens’ attitude, as the first 24-48 hours after injury will determine how serious the implications are.

The RICER rules all aim to produce the same outcome; reduce blood flow to the injury, lessen inflammation and swelling, and decrease the risk of further injury. Remembering these 5 actions will give your body the best chance at a full and speedy recovery:    

‘Rest’ - ​Simply taking your weight off the injury will assist the healing process.    

‘Ice’ - ​Ice packs, cold towels or cool baths reduce the blood flow to damaged tissue.     

‘Compression’ - ​Stick to elastic bandages and overlap the layers firmly, but not tightly.    

‘Elevation’ - ​Use cushions to raise the injured part of your body above your heart.   

‘Referral’ - ​Make sure to seek a professional diagnosis as soon as possible. Delaying this process can result in further injury and risks your chances of making a full recovery before the sports season begins.    

Do you know how to avoid further HARM?

While it is important to understand how to treat the initial injury, we need to know how to avoid causing further harm on and off the field.    

‘Heat’ - ​Heat increases blood flow to soft tissue, which may contribute to inflammation and swelling. While heat packs may provide temporary relief, the pain will return once the heat subsides.    

‘Alcohol’ - ​Alcoholic beverages dilate your blood vessels and thin your blood, which increases blood flow and inflammation to the injury. Having a drink may not seem like a big deal in the moment, but you’ll regret it once the pain sets in.    

‘Running’ - ​Running, or any physical activity that strains the injured area, is not recommended. Aside from inflaming the injury, you’ll be worsening the pain and extending your recovery time.    

‘Massage’ - ​We usually have a positive association with massage but rubbing the sore area immediately after injury has occurred will increase inflammation and potentially worsen the injury. It’s best to avoid massage for the first few days, or until a diagnosis is made.    

Once you’ve memorised the RICER and HARM rules, your Motion Health physiotherapist can take injury prevention even further. Physiotherapists are experts in exercise physiology, utilising the fields of biomechanics, biochemistry, musculoskeletal anatomy and physiology to measure your body’s response to exercise.    

Understanding your body’s limits and weaknesses, perhaps from past injuries, can ensure safer, more productive workout sessions. Contact your local Motion Health practice to ensure you get the best out of your workouts!