10 December 2010

Couch potato injuries

You want to get fit, but launching yourself straight into a tough exercise programme is going to end in one of two ways - injury or giving up. Hear what the experts have to say.


The sudden desire to lose a belly and gain a six-pack, challenges over a few beers as to who can run the fastest up a mountainside, or New Year resolutions to run the first marathon that comes across your path - we’re coming into silly-injury season. Without proper guidance or planning, or even thought or common sense, it can all end in a welter of physio and Ibuprofen. 

The weather is perfect for walking, hiking, running, cycling and spending time on the beach.

But for those who didn't keep active through winter, there are two ways to approach all this great summer activity – the correct way and the injuries way. In the interests of Health24’s readers’ happy holidays, we spoke to two of our experts to find out the difference.

  Dr Bets Breedt, Health24's CyberDoc, gives the 5 most common couch-potato-turned-fitness-enthusiast injuries she sees, and how to prevent them:  



Sprains and strains of ligaments and muscles

Warm up before exercise

Wear the right shoes or use the right equipment

Preferably see a biokineticist or gym instructor to show you how to do the exercise

Don’t overdo it – start slowly

Listen to your body – stop when you feel pain


Wear thick enough socks and the right shoes for the exercise. Wear protective gloves when doing weight exercises


Prevent falls by ensuring that equipment (like your bicycle) is in good working order, limit running to even surfaces in daylight hours, and wear protective knee and elbow guards

Shin splints

Alternate days of high impact with low impact training, wear the right shoes, rather run on grass or dirt track than on tar or cement, and increase intensity of exercise slowly.


Caused by repetitive actions and overuse of joints – so again start slowly.Pay attention to your posture.

Set up for failure

"I am 34, 1.6m tall and weigh 97.5kg. I have not exercised since childhood and get a lot of backache. I bought a mountain bike a few weeks ago to try and lose weight and get fit. I am struggling to say the least. I get tired unbelievably quick and can't cycle further than 4.5km. Can you please advise me on a how far I should cycle each day to gradually build up my fitness level and to help me lose weight. I am starting with weight watchers as well which I hope will help too.  Please advise." writes a Health24 user to CyberDoc.

  Dr Guy Ashburner, Health24’s Osteopath, gives his advice on how to start a new exercise programme; the most common injuries he sees among weekend-exercisers, and how to prevent them.  Often injuries aren't evident immediately, and will take a while to develop, Ashburner says.  

Typical weekend-exerciser injuries are:

  • neck pain
  • lower back pain
  • rotator cuff injury
  • ankle sprains 

Too much too soon

When starting out on an exercise campaign, or taking up a sporting activity, the most important thing is to maintain consistency. Injury is almost always going to occur if you launch yourself at an exercise programme, say Ashburner, and discouragement will probably mean that you drop out. Start off with one to two sessions per week on non-consecutive days. Don't try and cram it all in on the weekend. 

Planning saves money and can prevent painful injury

"Hi Doc, I hope you can help. Recently, after jogging and doing calf-raises, I noticed that the fronts of my lower legs (shins) are sore. I spoke to a friend and he says it's called "shin splints", that it happens when you jog and do calf-raises incorrectly, and that I have useless shoes.

Is this true? Because my trainers were freaking expensive and made for athletes, and how can one possibly do calf raises wrong?? I know jogging is different and has to be done specifically...and maybe I AM doing THAT wrong (I don't jog often at all). Some advice would be great."  

Get smart:

  • Start slowly, warm up
  • Use the right technique for the exercise.Correct posture, together with good technique, always provides a solid foundation for any exercise programme.
  • Stop when you are exhausted or experience pain
  • Use the right equipment
  • Use the right clothing for the exercise
  • If you have a weak area like a previous knee injury – wear support
  • Wear protective gear if needed 

Why it's smart to start properly

The warm-up consists of low-intensity aerobic exercise such as, walking, gentle jogging, or cycling. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a 15 minute warm-up before beginning strenuous exercise. Ashburner say that this will ensure that your muscles/body are warm and supple enough to help prevent injury. A stretch should follow the warm-up. Stretching should never be painful, as this signals potential damage to the body. Stretching should always be done after the warm-up, not as the warm-up.

Always proceed with caution with yoga, and use a qualified instructor, as yoga may compromise areas of weakness, and therefore injury can occur very easily. "I walk through the gym every week to see many people including some personal trainers, offering inappropriate advice. If you have any concerns at all, please consult an osteopath to ensure musculoskeletal well-being, and to get advice on the best way forward," says Ashburner. 

The correct way to do it

"I have been running for a couple of months now and spend at least 3 days a week at the gym. I'm very interested in cycling and have bought myself a road bicycle - are there any training plans freely available for beginner cyclists?

Things to avoid 

Avoid trampolines as they create whiplash for adults.

Avoid gimmicks. Products that make unrealistic offers almost certainly compromise on overall safety, and may result in injury. 

Lastly, keep it natural, and stay well hydrated.

Read more:

Find out how to choose the correct exercise gear

Visit the Get Started in 6 Steps section 

(Joanne Hart, Health24, December 2010)


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