From pedallers and pavement pounders in hi-vis Lycra to post-work gym bunnies and Sunday league sports players, there’s no doubt about it: Britain has caught the fitness bug.
But while throwing ourselves into a new sport or exercise regime might seem like the healthiest way to counteract all those hours spent slumped over a computer screen (or in front of Netflix), this all-or-nothing approach to physical activity can spell disaster when it comes to sports injuries.
“Our bodies are designed to move little and often throughout the day. But with increasingly sedentary lifestyles, we seem to be going from one extreme to another,” explains chartered physiotherapist Sammy Margo.
“Many of the injuries we see in the studios now are from what we call ‘weekend warriors’: people who spend ten hours a day stuck at a desk, go home, sit down but then they might do some kind of sport or exercise at the weekend.”
We asked Margo to offer her advice on some of the most common sporting injuries today, and the simple steps you can take to help prevent them.
Sports: Most high-impact sports, such as running, football, tennis, basketball, squash.
One of the most common sports injuries, ankle sprains occur when the foot twists, forcing the ankle joint out of its natural position – usually by turning inwards under the body.
“The ligaments (the bits of string that join the bone to the bone) become overstretched beyond what we call their ‘plastic limit’, explains Margo.
Although a sprained ankle can be very painful and swollen, with the right care, most people improve within a few weeks and get back to normal within a few months.
But there are a number of steps you can take to help prevent the injury happening in the first place: “Work out little and often to help maintain a good level of strength, and focus on your balance as your ankles are very important for balance,” says Margo. “Also, make sure you’re wearing the correct footwear and doing the right kind of training for your sport or activity.”
Sports: Running (particularly long distance and road running); sports that involve a lot of stopping and starting, such as basketball and tennis.
The scourge of the novice road runner, shin splints, are exercise-induced pains felt along the shinbone (tibia) as a result of frequent and intense periods of exercise when your body isn’t used to it, such as when you’re new to running or starting a new or strenuous training programme.
“Shin splints are often brought on by an increase in frequency, intensity or duration of activity, or by changing your footwear or the surface you’re on,” explains Margo.
She adds that they can settle down quite quickly but suggests the following steps to help prevent the onset of pain: “Make sure you’re stretching and taking a considered approach, increasing your activity in a gentle, gradual fashion. And if, for example, you’re running, make sure your footwear is suitable for your foot type.”
Anterior knee pain
Sports: Repetitive action sports, such as cycling, running, skiing.
Overuse of the knee in repetitive action sports, such as running or cycling is just one of the causes of what is commonly known as ‘runner’s knee’. “As many as 40% of runners experience this problem, which is quite often a gradual onset problem due to an imbalance of the musculature around the knee and can come on gradually and progress onto a more sharp, serious pain.” Explains Margo.
But understanding the root of knee pain can be complex: “It could be that the muscles on the outside of the knee are a little bit too tight and need to be stretched out, or it could be the calf muscles or the hamstrings, or a muscle imbalance in the lower leg, which can cause a tracking problem in the knee cap – there are so many variations. Because of this complexity, you might need to seek out the advice of a physio.”
To help prevent the onset of anterior knee pain, Margo suggests interspersing running with walking, alternating fast and slow running or mixing up your routine.
Sports: Tennis, golf
With the tennis season in full swing, courts up and down the country are packed with inspired amateurs channeling their inner Murray. But for some, with tennis mania comes tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow “often occurs after strenuous overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm, near the elbow joint”, according to NHS Choices. You many notice pain just below the bend of your elbow, when you bend or lift your arm, hold a pen, or twist your forearm, such as unscrewing a jar.
But the problem is by no means restricted to tennis players. Golf swings can also be responsible – and even just sitting at a desk, using your computer mouse.
Margo suggests minor adjustments can make a huge difference when it comes to prevention: “Change your tennis technique, use a double-handed backhand, or change the loading of the strings – or get a golf lesson to check whether you’re using your hips in the right way.” She adds: “If your computer mouse is causing the problem, get a vertical mouse or switch over to your other hand.”
Sports: Tennis, squash, football, basketball, rugby
“The hamstrings are three very important muscles in the back of the thigh but with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, sitting for long periods of time with our knees at 90 degrees, our hamstrings are in very shortened positions all day long,” explains Margo.
“So the activity itself might not be the problem – it may be the way you’re sitting at your desk. When you exercise, you have to stretch the muscles so, for example, an extreme movement such as hurdling, would require the muscle to be fully lengthened. But when you sit for eight to ten hours a day with your knees bent, your muscles just aren’t used to it.”
Hamstring injuries can be caused by a number of different reasons, such as a repetitive injury, an over-stretch or simply because you haven’t warmed up sufficiently.
“The thing to take note, because these are really important muscles, is consider your position at work, consider stretching, consider staying well conditioned and lengthening the muscle slowly through the movement because this is an overstretch problem.”