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Sports and exercise are good for athletes of all ages, but they can carry risks of injury.
You can reduce your injury risk by listening to and taking care of your body before, during and after exercise.
If you experience a sports injury, you should see a sports medicine specialist.
Playing sports can be a great source of joy no matter your age. Sports keep your body active and healthy, relieve stress and give you a sense of community with others. But as with any physical activity, there is some level of risk involved – especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been active.
Neel Raval, M.D., sports medicine specialist with Providence Health, shares his tips on how athletes of any age can prevent common sports injuries, like sprains, strains and ligament tears, and stay in the game.
Age-based guidelines for physical activity
Regular exercise helps prevent chronic illness and improve overall health and wellbeing. Yet only half of American adults get the amount and intensity of activity they need each week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer the following recommendations for activity by age:
- Children from elementary through high school age should get 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity every day. Three days a week, these activities should include an intense activity like running, and muscle- and bone-strengthening activities like pushups, planks and jumping rope.
- Adults aged 18 to 65 should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, along with two days of muscle-strengthening activities.
- For adults over 65, the recommendation is the same as for younger adults, with the addition of regular, simple activities to improve balance.
- For those adults with chronic conditions and disabilities, the recommendation is 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activities covering all major muscle groups.
You can get your recommended amount of exercise from any activity you enjoy, from soccer to pickleball, running to swimming.
Injury prevention tips for kids and teens
ACL tears, Achilles tendon injuries and “little league elbow” are happening in more young athletes each year. These injuries are typically related to a child or teen repeating the same motion over and over, like throwing a ball or jumping.
“Early sports specialization (playing the same sport year-round) can cause repetitive use of same muscles, ligaments and tendons,” says Dr. Raval. “This stresses them more than if you were changing up sports and working different muscle groups.”
Dr. Raval recommends avoiding sports specialization in elementary and middle school aged kids. Kids should play different youth sports throughout the year to avoid these injuries. Children should also follow the tips in the section below.
How adults can avoid sports injuries
For adults and teens, avoiding sports-related injuries means listening to your body and knowing your limits.
“Nothing you are doing during in sports should be painful,” says Dr. Raval. “It can be challenging, and being sore is fine. But you shouldn’t feel pain.”
Dr. Raval also shared these tips for preventing sports injuries when participating in sports and physical activity:
- Start low and go slow. If you are returning to activity after some time away from it, you can’t expect to return at the same level you were at before. You’ll need to build up your strength, endurance and speed again slowly.
- Strength train and cardio train to build muscle mass and stamina. Both of these types of exercises will help you play well and prevent injury.
- Always perform a dynamic warm-up before exercise. A dynamic warm-up means using high-tempo movements, such as high steps, running in place or jumping jacks, to slowly bring up your heart rate and get your blood flowing to your muscles.
- Stretch during your cool down. A stretching cool down can take advantage of your warm muscles. It helps release lactic acid that can cause cramps and stiffness.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of water, and sleep well. It may seem like common sense, but often people don’t eat, drink and sleep well enough to take proper care of their bodies while they train. Make all three a priority.
- Check your gear and your form. Make sure all of your athletic gear fits you correctly, and have a coach or athletic trainer check that you are using proper technique if possible. Many overuse injuries are caused by protective gear that doesn’t fit right or a movement that’s not done properly.
- If you think you may have an injury, check in with your doctor as soon as possible.
“If you have a sudden reduction in your ability to continue playing the same way you played before, that’s a red flag,” says Dr. Raval. “If you can’t get back to your sport within a few days, see a sports medicine specialist for help with your injury.”
Neel Raval, M.D., is a Sports Medicine physician specializing in non-operative treatment of orthopedic injuries at our Providence Medical Institute clinic locations in Ladera Heights/Culver City, Hawthorne, and Manhattan Beach.
Find a doctor
If you need advice on how to begin or continue training for your sport, talk to your doctor. You can find a Providence primary care doctor using our provider directory or a specialist through the Providence Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.
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