Exercise is great!
Performed correctly, exercise can help keep your body in great shape. It can boost energy levels, improve muscle tone, strength and endurance, and enhance bone strength and function. Regular exercise can also help to minimise your risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and even some cancers.
Better still, research reveals exercise can elevate brain function, heighten memory, improve mood, and even potentially reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
If performed incorrectly however, exercise can lead to injury.
The potential for sustaining musculoskeletal and soft tissue injury, including damage to joints, tearing of muscle or ligament tissue, bruises, cuts, grazes, sprains, strains, and even broken bones, can prove off-putting to many planning to exercise.
However, with proper preparation and the right footwear, you can curtail your risk of sustaining sports-related injuries.
One of the most important ways to reduce your risk of injury, and best prepare yourself for exercise, is to stretch both before and after exercising. Focus on all muscle groups that can be used while participating in any form of exercise. Stretching correctly before and after any form of exercise will warm-up, elongate and prepare the muscles for the exercise, decreasing your risk of overstretching.
Stretching serves many purposes: it helps to lengthen muscles, increase flexibility and range of motion, improve posture, strengthen the muscles of the back and chest wall to help relieve any unnecessary pressure on the joints, and to lubricate the joints, in order to keep them healthy.
Increasing the length and flexibility of your muscles through stretching can also help to reduce your risk of a sprain, muscle or ligament tear due to over-stretching.
Overstretching occurs when a muscle forcibly contracts, because it's stretched beyond its capability. When a muscle is being lengthened through stretching, the connective tissue surrounding the muscle is also being stretched. But with too much stretching (or over-stretching), the connective tissue loses its ability to contract, which can result in a tear and reduced movement.
The same applies to stretching an already tightened muscle. Importantly, if a muscle is cold, or tight, it's important to try to avoid lengthening it too much, to help curb your risk of a micro tear.
Lunging or side-stepping movements are commonly associated with over-stretching, and often lead to sprain-related injuries or torn muscles.
To help avoid overstretching, and sprain-related injuries, follow my advice:
Talk to an expert: Ask your sports physician, doctor or personal trainer for advice on how to stretch correctly. If you have an injury, or have previously injured a muscle, a professional can advise you about when to return to exercise and how to stretch correctly to avoid further, or recurring injury.
Stretch every day: Make stretching party of your daily routine to reduce your risk of overstretching. Even 10 minutes of stretching a day will improve your balance, strength, and importantly, flexibility.
Avoid bouncing: When stretching, try not to bounce. Bouncing does not improve the stretch, but can in fact, lead to overstretching and injury. Hold a single stretch for between 10-to-30 seconds to achieve the desired elongation of muscle.
Ensure your muscles are warm: Stretching is a physical activity that can place undue strain on muscles, especially if they're cold. To avoid unnecessarily overstretching and spraining or tearing muscles, make sure you warm them up before stretching. Warming muscles up can be as simple as spending a few minutes walking before commencing your stretching routine.
If you feel discomfort in your muscles, stop stretching: Listen to your body. Mild discomfort in a stretch can mean the muscle is lengthening. But if you push the stretch to the point where the muscle is in pain, this is a sign that you're pushing too hard and can injure yourself. Ideally stretch the muscle to a point where it is comfortable.
Breathe: When competing in sport, or performing a stretching routine, we often stop breathing or change our breathing habits, which can prevent oxygen flow to the muscles. It's important to breathe regularly when exercising to avoid overstretching.
Finally, when stretching or exercising, get to know your limits and avoid overdoing it.
Contact Associate Professor Nigel Hope for further information on stretching and exercising safely on 02 9473 8648 or visit www.nigelhope.com.au
Associate Professor Nigel Hope is a leading authority on sports injuries, knee (meniscal) surgery, osteoarthritis and minimally invasive tissue-preserving joint (hip and knee) replacement. He also specialises in articular cartilage contouring to relieve pain, improve function and delay or prevent the onset of osteoarthritis.
A/Prof Hope holds the nation's only PhD in the composition and repair mechanisms of the knee joint.
He is currently Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, where he lectures and examines undergraduates and supervises Honours and Masters students.