Summer activities: how to prevent sports injuries

Now that the summer weather is hotting up, many people are heading outdoors to work out and play sports. But whatever activity you take part in, there’s always a risk you could sustain a sports injury – whether you’re new to exercise or a seasoned sports person.

According to the NHS, there are several ways of reducing your risk of getting injured, including:

  • Not pushing your body beyond your current fitness level.
  • Using the right equipment (wearing a good pair of running shoes, for example, or using shin guards for football.
  • Receiving coaching to learn correct techniques.

Another thing the NHS recommends is warming up properly before you start to exercise. According to NHS experts, your warm-up routine should take at least six minutes (or longer, if you feel the need). This is designed to stimulate blood flow, boost muscle and tendon suppleness, increase your body temperature and prepare your muscles and joints for movement. Find out which moves you could do by reading How to warm up before exercising.

Boosting flexibility

Many sports therapists claim you should improve your flexibility even more by stretching before exercising too. Indeed, stretching is often an important part of training and preparation for those taking part in sports and other activities.

Doing some gentle stretches before you start exercising may help prepare your muscles for what’s to come. And having the right amount of flexibility is thought to allow for a better range of motion in your joints without putting any extra stress on the tissues around the joints – which many believe could help prevent injuries. Some sports experts, however, believe stretching before exercising may not affect your chances of getting a sports injury (though most agree it can’t do any harm if done correctly).

There’s also a theory that stretching before and after exercise could help minimise the damage that causes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which typically starts about 24 hours after you’ve been exercising – though again, the evidence for this is mixed.

But you don’t have to restrict stretching to before or after exercising. If your muscles feel stiff, you can stretch any time you need to – for instance, in the morning when muscles often need warming up (move around a bit before stretching – your muscles will stretch more effectively and safely if they’re already warm). Stretching in the evening can help you relax too – try learning some yoga or Pilates stretches to help wind yourself down at the end of a busy day.

How to stretch

Depending on the type of activity you take part in, you may need to stretch different muscle groups to keep them flexible. Most activities involve using your leg muscles and joints; so after warming up, try these leg stretches:

Hamstring stretch

The hamstrings are the muscles at the back of your thighs, and are often tighter than they should be:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
  • Lift one knee towards you and hold the back of the thigh with both hands, pulling your thigh towards your chest gently.
  • Try to straighten your knee as much as you can without feeling discomfort (you should feel a stretch, but it should never be painful).
  • Hold the stretch for a few seconds then repeat on the other leg.

Quadriceps stretch

These are the muscles at the front of your thighs:

  • Lie on your front with your legs straight.
  • Bend one knee and try to grab the ankle (if you can’t reach, use a towel to pull your ankle closer).
  • Pull the foot towards your bottom, but don’t raise your hip off the floor.
  • Hold the stretch for a few seconds then repeat on the other leg.

Calf muscle stretch

  • Stand up straight and hold the back of a chair with one or both hands for support.
  • Step back with one foot, making sure the heel points straight behind you and is flat on the floor (the knee of your other leg should be bent).
  • Lean forwards gradually keeping the back heel on the floor, feeling the stretch in your calf.
  • Hold the stretch for a few seconds then repeat on the other leg.

If you injure yourself when exercising or playing sport this summer, your local Careway pharmacy has everything you need to recover, from ice packs and painkillers to compression bandages and sports supports. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.

Also take a look at our article Five ways to cope with sports injuries.