Exercise: Injury Prevention & Self-Care

Here are some guidelines for preventing sports injuries, along with a few self-care tips for treating minor sports-related health problems that happen from time to time.

Warm Up

Always warm up before exercise. For example, 3-10 minutes of slow walking or jogging, easy cycling, or light weights help to increase blood flow to the major muscle groups and increase your metabolic rate to prepare your body for a higher-intensity activity.

Cool Down

After exercising, cool down. Decrease the intensity of your exercise and continue to move for 5 more minutes, then do slow, static stretches for 5-10 minutes. Cooling down helps your body adjust by allowing a proper decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, preventing blood from pooling in your legs, and promoting the removal of lactic acid to aid in decreasing muscular soreness, common after a moderate to high-intensity workout. 

Stretch Slowly and Gently

Never bounce, and stop short of pain. Inhale and exhale regularly while stretching. Hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. Learn Proper Exercise Techniques Join an instructional class, take private lessons, or utilize the guidance of a certified personal trainer.

Wear Comfortable Clothing, etc.

  • Shoes should fit well and should be designed for the activity you are involved in.
  • Wear socks made with cotton or wool to prevent blisters.
  • Wear shirts on hot days to protect the skin.
  • Women should wear sports bras when exercising strenuously.
  • Wear helmets for sports such as rollerskating and biking.
  • Wear safety glasses for sports such as racquetball and squash.
  • Wear clothes designed for the activity.

Pay Attention to Nutrition

  • Plan ahead and have snacks/water available
  • Ask yourself: What is a good pre-workout/post-workout snack for you?
  • Eat regularly and stay well-hydrated.

Take Precautions in Warm Weather

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. Don't wait until you are thirsty.
  • Wear light-colored, lightweight, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Wear a hat or sun visor, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
  • Exercise more slowly and less intensely.
  • Be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion: weakness, dizziness, rapid pulse, headache, muscle cramps, decreased sweating, and nausea.

Take Precautions in Cold Weather

  • Wear a hat and warm clothing to prevent heat loss.
  • Avoid overdressing; wear layers that can be removed as you warm up.
  • Wear loose clothing; it traps layers of air and provides good insulation.
  • Remove damp or wet clothing as soon as possible. Water increases the rate of heat loss and decreases the insulation value of the clothing.


If you are tired or have had insufficient sleep, cut down on the duration or intensity of exercise. Also, give your body adequate time to recover from exercise, ideally 24 to 48 hours.

Causes of Injuries

Do not ignore pain. Pain is the body's response to injury or overuse. As you get accustomed to exercising, you will better be able to distinguish between soreness and pain. Soreness may develop one to two days after a workout and dissipate 24 to 48 hours later. Pain can occur immediately and persist with everything you do.

Stiffness and Soreness Caused By Overtraining

  • Intensity - exercising too much and too hard
  • Frequency - exercising too often, not giving your body enough time to recover (24 to 48 hours)
  • Dehydration
  • Impending or low-grade illness

Back Pain

  • Improper technique while bending and lifting
  • Weak abdominal muscles
  • Inflexibility in the hamstrings or hip flexors
  • Hypermobility in the lower back from excessive stretching of hamstrings and pelvic girdle muscles
  • Emotional stress

Other Causes

  • Ill-fitting shoes
  • Poor exercise equipment - weight machines that don't fit or align properly with your body

Injury Treatment

For treatment of minor injuries not involving the eye, follow the RICE procedure:

  • Rest the injured area by reducing activity and immobilizing it.
  • Ice the injured area for 20-minute periods on, and 40 minutes off, to help decrease inflammation and pain.
  • Compress the injured area by wrapping it for at least 30 minutes to prevent swelling.
  • Elevate the injured area above heart level. If pain or swelling worsens after 24 hours, see a physician.

Seek Medical Help For:

  • Any eye injury
  • Severe pain, disability, or numbness
  • An injured joint or broken bone 
  • Loss of movement
  • A minor injury which does not improve or heal within 3 weeks
  • Infection, pus, red streaks, swollen nodes, or fever