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Sports Injuries

29 September 2008

10 tips on preventing leg injuries

Many injuries to other parts of the body are merely inconvenient, but a leg injury affects your mobility seriously. Here's how to prevent them.

Many injuries to other parts of the body are merely inconvenient, but a leg injury affects your mobility seriously. There are all sorts of ways in which you can prevent leg injuries: from making your home safe, to eating correctly and getting off the couch and getting some exercise.

  1. Prevent exercise-induced injuries
    Don't let a strain, sprain or broken limb make your life miserable. Apart from having an impact on your quality of life, it can put you at risk for future injury in the exact same spot.

    Take action:
    Many exercise-induced injuries can be prevented: don’t be a “weekend warrior” – get yourself into shape gradually with a graded exercise programme; listen to your body – warm up properly and cool off after exercising; and use proper equipment and the correct technique.

    Also use common sense to prevent injury in everyday life: don’t carry heavy objects; watch where you step; and keep your home safe. To prevent falls, older adults should keep their muscles strong by exercising or doing tai chi.

  2. Fall-free homes for older folk
    Sudden falls can mean long-term illness and disability for older people at risk of fracture. Luckily, there are several simple, affordable ways to make every home slip-safe.

    Take action:
    Have railings on both sides of a staircase – this provides better support when going up and down stairs; install grab bars in and around bathtubs and showers; consider installing a tub seat – it will enable the person to get in and out of the tub more easily; install raised toilet seats and grab bars at toilets to make sitting and getting up easier; make sure stairs are always well-lit from top to bottom, and ensure that there are light switches at all room entries; place anti-skid strips on stair treads; and keep walkways wide open by getting rid of slippery throw rugs and clutter.

  3. Vegetarians, eat enough calcium and vitamin D
    Vegetarians who eat only raw plant-derived foods have abnormally low bone mass, usually an early sign of bone-thinning diseases like osteoporosis, American researchers have found. The researchers found that the vegetarians’ intake of calcium and vitamin D was particularly low.

    Take action:
    Make sure you include 1 000 to 1 300 milligrams of calcium and 5 micrograms of vitamin D in your diet every day. If you’re not including milk or milk products in your diet, you’ll have to get your daily calcium and vitamin D dose in tablet form. Generally, plant-based foods aren't significant sources. For this reason, extreme raw-food vegetarian diets are not recommended.

  4. Beef up your bones with iron

  5. It's widely known that calcium helps build strong bones. But according to experts from Tufts University in the US, iron is another important nutrient associated with bone health. It helps produce an integral component of bone called collagen.

    Take action:
    Experts recommend 18 mg of iron a day to improve bone mineral density. Get your daily dose by eatingthrough iron-rich foods, like meat, liver, legumes, fortified cereals and green, leafy vegetables. Speak to your doctor about iron supplementation if you think you're not getting enough of the mineral through your diet. Also note that iron is only effective in bone building when the recommended 800-1200 mg of calcium are consumed as well.

  6. Pilchards: a wonder food

  7. Did you know that pilchards are a great source of calcium? Boost your bone health by including this economic food in your diet.

    Take action:
    Whether you eat canned pilchards whole or crush them into smaller bits to use in sauces, never throw the bones away. Canned pilchard bones are already so soft that they won't pose a threat to your health. Pilchards are also a source of magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin D, micronutrients that are necessary for the absorption of calcium. Replace meat dishes once or twice a week with pilchard dishes. Pilchards make great meat substitutes in pancakes, pastas, sandwiches and pies.

  8. Walk your way to healthier bones

  9. Don't dismiss walking. It can provide enormous health benefits such as strengthening your bones. But to maximise the benefits you get from it, make sure that your walking technique is up to scratch.

    Take action:
    Keep your head up, eyes looking forward and focused ahead; ensure your back is straight, but relaxed; “zip up” your abdominals and squeeze in your gluteal (butt) muscles – this will help you to maintain a straight back; keep your chest out, your shoulders back, down and relaxed; let your arms, which are bent at the elbows, swing naturally from the shoulders; your foot strike action is important – after you land on the outer side of your heel, your foot rolls inwards, which is essential for adequate shock absorption; beware of pounding your heels down when walking briskly – this generates unnecessary force on your joints.

  10. Get your kid off the couch
    Getting your child to exercise is without a doubt one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your child's present and future bone health. Unfortunately, today's children don't have all the opportunities to play and exercise that their parents had.

    Take action:
    Be aware of your child's weight and physical activity levels – check what your child does in the afternoons and intervene if he/she does nothing but sit in front of the computer or TV; find out what physical activity is offered at your local school – if there are no sport facilities or if no attempt is made to ensure that your child does something active every day, get proactive and help teachers to organise some type of exercise; find a safe place where your kids can play and encourage them to play with their friends; if you can afford it, let your child join a gym or a sports club.

  11. Boogie for bone health
    Right, so exercise is good for your bones – among other things. But what if you really don't enjoy exercise?

    Take action:
    Turn up the music and dance. It will give you a great cardiovascular workout and is a brilliant mood lifter – plus, it's fun. If you're bored of your gym routine, you might want to try dance classes. Look in the Yellow Pages and ask friends for dance class info. Modern, jazz, hiphop, salsa or belly dancing – your options are endless.

  12. Prevent wear-and-tear on your knees
    Knee joints can wear as you age, or after years of high-impact exercise. Here are ways to help minimise the damage, courtesy of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and HealthDay.

    Take action:
    Avoid activities that tend to damage the knees, such as running, tennis, rugby, cricket or netball; engage in low-impact activities, such as swimming, cycling, golf or walking; talk to your doctor about anti-inflammatory medications or joint supplements to help preserve the knees – anti-inflammatory medications may also be injected by your doctor; physical therapy and icing the knees can help improve function; protective gear such as a brace, splint or elastic bandage can help support a weakened knee.

  13. Shun shin splints
    Running on hard surfaces, improper stretching, lack of warm-up and over-training are all factors that could contribute to shin splints. This painful condition is characterised by pain and redness on the inside of the shin and lumps and bumps over the bone.

    Take action:
    Apply RICE: rest – slows down bleeding and reduces the risk of further damage; ice – eases pain, reduces swelling, reduces bleeding initially; compression – reduces bleeding and swelling; elevation – reduces bleeding and swelling by allowing fluids to flow away from the site of injury. Note that shin splints are not as serious as stress fractures, but they often have similar symptoms. If your shin pain continues after three or more weeks, you should consider seeing your physician for a proper diagnosis.

 

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Ask the Expert

Sports Injuries Expert

Adrian Rotunno is a medical doctor in the Sports & Exercise Medicine fellowship at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, and qualified physiotherapist. Team physician for Dimension Data pro-cycling, and Boland Rugby. Special interests include endurance sport, in particular cycling, as well as contact sports.

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