Protecting Your Joints
Before, During and After Exercise
In my previous column, I wrote about the four most common causes of joint pain and how exercise can reduce or eliminate that pain. There's just one catch. The exercises you do must be appropriate for your goals and abilities, and you've got to avoid common mistakes that cause injuries.
This week, I'd like to share some of those things you can do to protect your joints when you workout.
Start every workout with a warm-up. The goal is to make the heart pump faster and get more blood moving through your muscles. You're also trying to raise your temperature and prepare your body for strenuous exercise.
The warm-up should be a dress rehearsal for your exercise. If you're working legs, warm up with a five-minute jog. If you're working arms, do some bicep or tricep curls with light weights.
Foam roll to work out knots in your muscles and relieve pain. It's also been documented to help improve range of motion and performance. Think of foam rolling as an additional way to warm up before your workout.
Form is critical. Learn how to properly move your body for each exercise you do. Start with light weights, and practice what each muscle group should be doing through the entire range of motion. Don't increase the weight or the number of reps until you know you're doing it right. Injuries happen when people get overly confident or distracted.
Start slow. Most people are highly motivated when they begin a new program. Unfortunately, that can cause problems if you push your body into doing too much, too quickly. Spend the first few workouts getting familiar with the program and pay attention to how you feel afterward. You can start pushing yourself harder when it's easier to complete the workout.
Stop if you feel pain that's sudden, sharp or on just one side of the body. Pain in your joints might indicate a problem with the tendon or a joint-related injury. Any pain that comes with swelling, bruising or loss of motion in the joint is bad pain. If you've got any symptoms of bad pain, get professional medical help.
It's OK to continue if the pain is a mild burning sensation you feel in your muscles. That's the result of muscle inflammation and is generally an indicator you're making gains. If the pain makes you feel uncomfortable, slow the pace down, and it should quickly subside.
Change your workout routine every few weeks. Doing the same thing, week after week and month after month, can cause overuse injuries. Hitting the same muscle group the same way every time can end up being too much of a good thing.
Choose your footwear carefully. Shoes provide stability, support and cushioning. They should fit well and be comfortable, but also appropriate for the exercises you're doing.
Weight training workouts require footwear that's stable. Running workouts require footwear that gives you cushioning without shifting and causing blisters. Basketball requires shoes that protect the ankles. Be prepared to change shoes based on the activities you're engaging in.
Consider moving your workouts into the water. Aquatic exercises are far less taxing on the joints than almost anything you can do on dry land. The resistance from the water will challenge your muscles without putting a lot of pressure on joints.
Allow your body enough time to rest between workouts. Workouts break down muscle. Exercising causes micro-trauma or tiny tears in the muscle fibers. We get stronger when the muscles heal after the workout. If you want to see progress, you've got to rest long enough for things to heal. Generally, you want to give muscles a 48-hour break after training.
Don't assume youth will protect you from problems. Yes, older people are more likely to have joint issues because they've had more time to damage them. But young people aren't immune. Anyone can experience pain if they're not careful. Follow these suggestions for better results.
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