Summer is here, apparently! While it’s cold, wet and grey outside as I write this, the long, warm days of Summer are just around the corner, and you know what that means!
Getting active, whether it’s getting back that bikini body, getting back in the garden, or going for a run, swim or ride. It’s all the same thing – shifting gears and getting that body moving again.
Sounds great – no downside, right? Getting back into any activity is always a good thing, but if you’re not careful, it can lead to injury.
In this article, you’ll discover how to prepare yourself for that increased activity and give yourself a better chance of avoiding injury.
How do injuries occur?
Understanding how injuries occur is a good place to start if you want to prevent them. Essentially, injuries occur when the body experiences more stress than it can handle. This may due to a range of factors, most of which are within your control.
If we want to prevent injuries, let’s look at the things you can do to stack up the points in your favour. It’s all about preparing your body to take on the extra load that is over and above what you have been doing lately.
The 5 Easy Steps:
#1. Warm up
It may seem silly to go through a warm up before mowing the lawn or pulling some weeds. If elite sports people do it every time they begin activity – and they know a thing or two about preventing injury – then maybe you could try it, too.
To warm up for gardening activity, for instance, just take your body gently through some of the movements you are about to ask of it, except slower and unloaded.
For example, move your body through the action it needs to pull start your mower a few times. Perform a few gentle squats and spinal twists before attacking those weeds.
Warming up is not really about ‘getting warm’. It’s more about rehearsing a movement and preparing your nervous system for a complex movement pattern and all the coordinated nerve impulses, joint control and muscle action that will be required in that movement.
A few movements rehearsed gently prior to embarking on any activity will prepare your nervous system for action, giving you a better chance of performing the movement accurately and thus avoiding injury.
#2. Drink Plenty of water
I won’t go into detail here – make sure you read Dr Chelsea’s article this month on water and injuries – but I will touch on it. Proper hydration helps most functions in your body work better, including your muscles and joints. When you are well hydrated, these parts of you will be less prone to injury.
It’s Summer time, so you’ll probably need more water. Before you start out on that run, ride, hike or burst in the garden, drink some water. If you are out in the heat for some time, make sure you keep drinking, not just for injury prevention, but for your health and safety, too.
Summertime is generally one of celebration – lots of family and friends out to dinner or having a BBQ together. Often this goes with alcohol consumption. Beware that alcohol consumption dehydrates your body and can leave you prone to injury. If you’re being active, minimise your alcohol consumption to avoid injury.
#3. Take Baby Steps
First time in a while you’ve been for a run? Has it been several months since you stepped into the gym? You’re not alone! It’s common for people to ramp up their activity levels around Summer time, either because it’s more inviting to be outside and active, or to trim down and look better in Summer clothes.
The problem with ramping up your activity is that often your body is not well prepared for the extra load. This is especially the case for older people (sorry – anyone in their forties and above!) or when the jump from low to high level activity is sudden.
Getting back into long runs or heavy gym workouts when you haven’t been doing this sort of thing for a while commonly results in injuries such as tendonitis.
If you’re going to begin something new, or ramp up your level of activity, take baby steps. In the running example, this might be going for a walk for 30 minutes with one minute of running every two or three minutes.
Then every few days, slowly build up the time you spend running until the whole time is spent running.
If you’re doing weights or getting back into sport, take it slow and gentle. Don’t start out where you remember you were ten years ago. Intentionally train lightly, slowly building the intensity as the weeks go by.
Sometimes when you begin exercise, you feel so enthusiastic (or impatient!) that you want to go hard straight away. When you do this, you are not giving your body time to build the strength in both muscle and other connective tissues to handle the loads. Baby steps will help you get there with much less chance of injury.
#4. Listen to Your Body
Have you ever noticed that some days, you wake up full of beans and feel you can take on the world, while on other days, you feel a little off, fragile, or just not up to doing so much?
Modern elite sports teams are tuning into this with all sorts of measurement tools such as heart rate variability to find out when you’re at your best and when you’re not. With the right information, you can predict when people are more likely to injure themselves.
If you’re not part of a multi-million-dollar sports team, you probably don’t have access to this sort of whizz-bangery, but guess what? You’ve got your own built-in sensory apparatus. If you tune in to how you feel, you’ll often be able to gauge quite accurately your state of readiness for activity.
For instance, self-rating of how hard you think you are training (eg. 1 – 10) has been shown to be quite accurate when compared to measurement with a heart rate monitor. Your body has an incredible ability to sense how it’s all going.
So tune in, listen to your body. When you aren’t feeling on top of the world, train a little less, or less intensively. Go out on that ride, do the gardening, or whatever you feel like doing, but go a little easier. Sometimes your body is giving you messages that if you heed, you will prevent injury.
#5. Improve Your Position Sense
Have you ever noticed that sometimes, you feel clumsier, more likely to bang your elbow on a table corner, or knock things over? When this happens, it’s a sign that your body’s position sense mechanism is not working as it should.
Every second of every moment in your life, your nervous system is sending messages back and forth from the brain to the body to monitor joint position, muscle length and loads, and external and internal forces.
It does this to precisely control movements in a way that allow your body to keep on going without breaking down. Your body’s position sense relies upon a variety of sensory apparatus, as well as proper nervous system function to convey messages and coordinate activity. When this goes wrong, your body no longer works in such a coordinated fashion, and injury can result.
Here are two ways you improve body control:
Firstly, try this exercise at home. Stand upright on one leg with your eyes closed (stand in a corner with hands almost touching the wall if you feel you might fall) and see how long you can balance.
Try it on the other side. You should be able to stand like that for at least ten seconds. If you can’t, you have more risk of injuring yourself. Do this every day as part of your health routine (just like brushing your teeth!) and you will probably live longer (long story – related to posture and falls) with less damage to your body.
Secondly, chiropractic adjustments have been shown to improve body position sense. Improving motion in parts of the spine where it has been lost improves the amount of sensory information getting up to your brain.
Chiropractors use gentle spinal manipulation and soft tissue techniques to help restore proper motion to the spine. When your spine is moving properly, your body position sense will be better, and you will have less likelihood of injuring yourself.
So get out and have fun this summer. You can be active, but if you take these 5 steps, you are less likely to injure yourself in the process. Preventing injury helps you to continue to enjoy what you’re doing – staying active and engaged this Summer.
If you have injuries that aren’t going away and you’re not sure what to do about them, please call us on (02) 6257 9400. If you would like some more information about the spine and nervous system and how it relates to your health, please check out the other articles on our Facebook page or go to our website: www.spinecentre.com.au. Also, make sure you read the other interesting articles we post on Summer activity this month.