A muscle strain doesn’t seem like that big of a deal -- until you’re the one suffering from it. These type of soft tissue injuries come about when you tear or overstretch a muscle or ligament, usually in your back or hamstrings. This kind of injury can happen frequently for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. You’ll know you have a muscle strain if you have difficulty moving that part of your body, if you experience spasms, and if you have swelling and pain.
The immediate course of treatment for muscle strain is the classic RICE technique -- Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. But you can avoid future strains and sprains by taking preventative action now.
Knowing what kind of sneaker, boot or cleated shoe you need is key to preventing muscle strain. Your choice should take into account both your foot shape and the type of fitness activity you’re doing. Your selection impacts not just your feet, but also the rest of your body, which can pay the price for poorly absorbed shocks.
Try to avoid “cross-training shoes” as your main sneaker. Your body’s muscles are best protected from strain when your feet are supported for the specific type of work they will be doing. Common types of footwear for differing activities include:
Your muscles will thank you if you do some light activity prior to your stretching and main workout. Warming up helps get circulation flowing, while loosening up your muscles making them less likely to become injured or strained by vigorous activity.
When applicable, do a light workout for a few minutes that mimics the kind of routine you are about to undertake, whether it be walking around the parking area before a mountain hike, jogging in place prior to a run or a jumping rope before shooting hoops. This should take no more than five minutes, and should be undertaken with deep, slow inhales and exhales.
When possible, reverse this process in the last 10 minutes of your main workout. Cooling down works especially well for running, hiking, biking, treadmill walking and swimming. Simply begin slowing down toward the end of your workout. You’ll know you’ve reached the end of your cooling down period when you’re no longer sweating and your breathing becomes steadier.
Stretching is too easily rushed in fitness, particularly if you’re participating in a group activity. After your warm up or cool down, begin your stretching routine.
The type of stretching known as dynamic stretching is best done before your game or workout. Torso twists and walking lunges are good examples of dynamic stretching. At the end of your activity, try to do some static stretching to keep muscles flexible. Stretching each arm crosswise across your torso, or bending your leg behind you until your ankle meets your buttock, are good examples of static stretching=. Do each stretch for about 10 seconds, inhaling at the beginning and exhaling at the end.
The best way to avoid muscle strain and other injuries is to practice a philosophy of “balanced fitness,” meaning that you aren’t simply working on weight loss, or to lower your blood pressure, or to build bigger muscles. Working on a routine in which you vary the activities that individually promote either cardiovascular, muscle bulking or flexibility is key. In practice, this might mean you alternate jogging or tennis days with yoga or weight lifting.
If you’re involved in an intensive, daily muscle-building program, however, make sure to alternate “leg days and butt days” with “arm and ab days.” In this way, your different muscle groups have time to recover between workouts. In general, 24 hours isn’t enough for muscles to recover from any type of intense workout.
Your muscles are more prone to injury when they’re stressed, and few things stress them more quickly than dehydration. Overheating and cramping are the immediate effects of not getting enough fluid into you, of course, but the next day you might also feel severe muscle strain. Your muscles need the proper electrolyte balance in order to work properly.
Those electrolytes are lost through sweat, meaning that you’re going to need to replace them through fluids if you want your muscles to behave the way they should -- which includes not tearing when worked. For a regular workout, figure on taking in about one pint of water both before and after your workout, along with plenty of sips during, if possible. On hot days, increase your water intake.
It’s natural to go all-in on a new fitness regime, especially if you want to lose weight, or you have a pressing health concern for which your doctor suggested exercise. But failing to rest when you are tired -- which is likely to happen more frequently in the early days of a new activity -- means that you aren’t listening to what your body is telling you.
Overall fatigue, or a muscle that is sore a day or two after a workout, is your body’s way of letting you know that your muscles are in danger of becoming injured if you don’t give them rest. While teen athletes might not have a choice when their coach tells them to “push through the pain,” adults usually have the freedom to give themselves a needed day off from a workout.
By the same token, however, you don’t want to grant yourself six days of rest, prior to one intense day on the basketball court or on a challenging mountain. Physical therapists often talk about building yourself a “muscle brace” to protect soft tissue from strains and sprains. Building those muscles through regular activity is the best way to ensure this self-protection.
Keep yourself from suffering “weekend warrior” muscle strains by doing some type of exercise on most days for a total of about 30 minutes, even if the only way to work that in is by taking a 10-minute stroll every few hours. (Again, if you can vary your activity a bit from day to day, you’ll further protect yourself, by gradually building up different muscle groups.)
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