Harnessing your enthusiasm to exercise will carry you through the ebbs and flows that mark any exercise routine.
But running without a prevention plan is an invitation to injury. Tempering your eagerness to move with steps to prevent injury can help you stay healthy – and active – for longer.
Plus, knowing you’re prepared will give you confidence that you’ve created a sustainable habit instead of one waiting to be derailed.
CREATION Health teaches that simply making the choice to be active helps us realize we have control over our health. Taking that first step will help you regain control over your life, including your stress and anxiety.
We went to Philip Agostinelli, a physical therapist and clinic manager at Florida Hospital Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, for tips on how to prevent injuries, including in children. Because sitting all day can weaken your body, we’ll help you avoid the aches and pains caused by desk jobs, too.
Agostinelli says stretching, core strength, cross-training and gradually increasing intensity are key elements in staying healthy.
But his biggest tip to avoid injuries of any kind is to maintain a regular exercise schedule.
The CREATION Health approach teaches us to be active, but is flexible about how that looks for each person. Doing something you enjoy – gardening, perhaps, or hiking a trail – will turn a chore into a fun choice.
“It doesn’t have to be extreme, but have a normal routine that involves cardio, such as walking, swimming, cycling or hiking,” Agostinelli says.
Though many of us associate injury with misfortune on our feet – say, a trip, fall or twist – he says the opposite is true. Humans are not made to sit for long periods of time, and it is this inactivity that is most dangerous.
Of course, starting an exercise routine is not easy. But he’s got some tips to help you sidestep the pain and frustration of injury.
Don’t rush it!
No matter where you start on a running journey, pace yourself. Agostinelli has seen plenty of pain, especially in the knees, from runners who are progressing too quickly from a 5k to a half-marathon.
“You can see how their training was pushed too hard, too fast,” he says.
As a rule of thumb, runners should run 10 percent farther each week.
In other words, if you’re running 20 miles a week, don’t jump to 40 even if you think you can handle it. Instead, try 22 miles the next week. As you ramp up, you’ll make more progress each week than you did before, but in a sustainable way.
It’s a slower road but by far the safer one.
For runners interested in training for a 5k, Florida Hospital has a 9-week program to guide you. Called MISSION: 5k, it taps the expertise of Florida Hospital sports medicine professionals to give you the motivation and support to run a 5k.
Mix it up
Perhaps the best way to prevent running injuries is to broaden your exercise horizons.
“I often tell runners to cross-train: to bike, swim or try another form of exercise,” Agostinelli says. “It’s probably the single most important thing you can do to prevent injuries. ”
Runners, whose joints are subjected to repeated stress, can supplement their routine with low-impact workouts such as bicycling and swimming. This provides rest for battered joints without stopping your workouts.
Plus, it works different muscles, and in new ways, providing benefits to your overall strength and conditioning.
Despite the key role of flexibility and mobility in preventing injury, there continues to be a debate about the role of stretching.
Agostinelli says he advises runners to warm-up before activity, but save the toe touches until you’re done.
“I recommend some brisk walking or a light jog beforehand, and hold off on the static stretches until afterward,” he says. That said, “a tight, worked muscle should be stretched,” he adds.
Kids and exercise
For children, strength training should not be the first priority, Agostinelli says. However, there is a safe amount of exercise to help them learn to move and control their bodies.
“Kids at that age, before their growth spurts, are as uncoordinated as Bambi,” Agostinelli says.
It’s important to teach children the big picture about movement, repetition and practice. Overuse injuries are an ever-larger problem, especially with children who play for multiple competitive teams, including baseball.
“We see a lot of kids, 12 or 13 years old, having shoulder and elbow pain,” he says.
Children should also feel comfortable admitting pain or fatigue, either of which can signal an overuse injury.
“Sometimes, kids don’t tell parents or coaches when they’re hurt, so you have to encourage
open communication,” says Agostinelli, an expert in baseball-related injuries.
He can explain to parents why their children have, say, shoulder pain.
“We do our best to break it down to them and say, this is what’s required of a baseball pitcher or a quarterback,” he says.
Work out at work
A desk might seem like a pretty safe place. But physical therapists see plenty of patients whose pain can be traced back to inactivity.
“We’re not made to sit for long periods of time,” Agostinelli says. Unfortunately, the most comfortable position can be the most damaging.
“A bad posture is usually a position of comfort,” he says.
These habits are particularly damaging to our necks.
“As humans in the digital age, so much strain is put on our necks,” Agostinelli says, whether it’s strain from leaning forward at a desk monitor or tilting forward to gaze at a phone.
Here are a few general tips to create a safe workstation:
- The computer monitor should be just below eye level, so you don’t have to move your head to see it.
- Your arm should be resting on an armrest, even or nearly so with your wrists and hands.
- Sit against a backrest with your feet on the ground and your knees at a 90-degree angle.
Standing desks, including those that allow for an easy transition between sitting, are quite helpful, he says.
There are also steps you can take to avoid injury without even getting up. Here are a few:
- Shoulder rolls: Rotate your shoulders in a circular motion, forward and backward.
- Neck stretch: Sitting with your feet on the ground and shoulders back, grab your chair with your left hand. Then slowly bring your right head toward your right shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold this for 10 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
“Stretches done over a few minutes one or two times a day can really help out somebody in the long run,” Agostinelli says.
To avoid knee pain, look to hip
Knee pain is quite common in runners, Agostinelli says, and a lot of it could be avoided with better muscle strength.
“Your problem is going to be at the hips, nine times out of 10,” he says. That’s because our glutes and other muscles play key roles in stabilizing our knees.
Agostinelli recommends targeted exercises at the hip, though the intensity will vary based on ability.
A good place to start is with clamshells, which are performed while laying on your side with knees bent. Slowly raise and lower your top knee.
A more advanced version of this exercise involves planking – holding your core and legs straight. On your side, place your right forearm along the ground and lift your hips in the air so that your body is in a straight line. Then lower your hips to the ground and lift them back up in the air.
While physical trainers can teach their patients, support them and point them in the right direction, it’s up to the patients to do the work.
For Florida Hospital physical therapists, uncommon compassion means enlisting patients as full partners in recovery and prevention.
“When patients understand the purpose, the why, that’s where you’re going to get total buy-in,” Agostinelli says.
A Florida Hospital physical therapist can arrange the elements of prevention – including stretching, cross-training and gradual intensity increases – in a way that fits into your unique life.
Making the choice to take control over your health will help you feel better and brighten your outlook. After all, CREATION Health tells us that our mind and body work together to shape our health.