One way to prevent sports injuries is to use a foam roller to increase flexibility.
1. Weekend warriors pay the highest price
Running a 10K race or playing 18 holes is great weekend fun. If you work long hours at a desk job, though, a sudden burst of activity puts you at high risk of injury, especially in the lower back and knees, says New York City physical therapist Adam Pratomo of the Hospital for Special Surgery.
That, in turn, can be costly: 50% of knee injuries require a visit to a physical therapist, doctor, or hospital. So increase intensity (pace, distance, weight, or reps) by no more than 10% per week.
2. Fueling right is key
Even moderate dehydration can decrease your mental acuity, says Mike Roussell, author of "The Six Pillars of Nutrition," and that ups the likelihood of tripping or twisting your ankle.
You need 16 ounces of water first thing in the morning and 16 ounces about a half-hour before exercise. Sip more if the activity lasts more than an hour.
Regularly eating bananas and greens can also prevent cramping during exercise.
3. Skip the brace
Over-the-counter braces for aching elbow, wrist, and knee joints are big sellers at $10 to $50 apiece.
But they can do more harm than good, says Pratomo. "If you wear a brace for more than a day or two, you risk weakening the muscles so they're more susceptible to injury," he says.
Wraps and tapes may be better for temporarily stabilizing a joint, but you'll need a physical therapist to show you how to do the wrap first.
4. Buy the foam roller
A sports massage can soothe sore muscles, but at $100 or so a pop, it's not cheap.
Try a foam roller ($9, power-systems.com) instead: A recent study published in the journal Strength and Conditioning Research found that in the 10 minutes following foam rolling, flexibility increases by more than 10%.
To use the roller, lie on a six-inch diameter foam log; press on the muscle you're targeting with your body weight. As you roll, you'll break down knots and improve range of motion.
5. Injured? Try R.I.C.E.
Before you rush to the doc for a minor injury, use the RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) treatment for several days, says Pratomo.
Still having discomfort? Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist; in a 2012 study, patients with back pain who sought early treatment from a PT recovered faster and had lower costs vs. those who delayed care. Insurance plans usually cover about a dozen physical therapy visits, enough to heal most minor injuries.
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