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All sports and exercises involve some risk of injury. In general, the more collision or contact in a sport, the greater the risk. Most frequent injuries occur when abnormal stress is placed on ligaments, tendons and muscles — most commonly resulting in sprains (to ligaments/tendons) and strains (to muscles). Less than five percent of sports-related injuries involve broken or fractured bones.

Here are a few helpful tips to help you reduce your risk of having sports-related injuries:

Get pre-season or yearly sports physicals

A sports medicine physician can help you assess your readiness for sports, address any medical issues that may put you at risk for injury and offer recommendations to ensure safe sports participation. Adults suffering from chronic diseases should consult with a physician before undertaking a new exercise activity.

Gear up with the right gear

Players should wear sport-appropriate and properly fitted protective equipment, such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee and shin), helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, as well as protective cups and eyewear. Protective gear cannot fully protect you from injury, but can lessen the severity of an injury.

Warm up before playing and cool down after playing

Tight muscles are more prone to injury and put more stress on tendons, joints and bones, putting additional injury risk on your body. Increase flexibility and strengthen muscles with a combination of stretching and conditioning exercises before and after games, fitness training or practice.

Set realistic goals. Whether starting a new exercise program or trying to attain a new goal, set realistic expectations — start with frequencies and intensities appropriate to your current physical condition (based on consultation with your physician) and injury history.

Play it safe

Learn the specific skills needed to prevent injuries specific to your sport or game. Consider joining teams and/or leagues with established safety guidelines as well as safe, well-maintained environments. Also, participate in activities that are supervised by an experienced or trained coach who understands and enforces game rules.

Stop an activity if you experience pain.

Pain is a symptom of an injury, physical stress on your body or overuse. Do not subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” philosophy and do not play through pain. Listen to your body and consult your physician. The sooner an injury is identified, the sooner and more effective treatment can be administered, the faster your recovery and the quicker you can return to the sport or game you enjoy.

Drink plenty of fluids

Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercising or playing. You should not wait until you feel thirsty — thirst is actually one of the first signs of dehydration. Water and sports beverages are preferred. Avoid caffeine, sugary drinks and carbonated beverages.

Take breaks

Rest periods during practice, fitness training and games can reduce your risk of injury and can prevent hyperthermia. Always allow time for rest and recovery between workouts. Consider incorporating an “off season” into your schedule — a minimum of four weekly periods of rest from sports each year. This is easily overlooked when playing more than one sport or when playing one sport all year.

Have first aid available at all times

First aid is simply a safeguard until actual medical treatment is available. First aid can prevent infections, excessive blood loss, lessen scarring and even prevent death.

Please note, these tips do not substitute a medical checkup or consultation with a physician. Always contact your physician if you have questions or have a particular injury caused by playing sports or exercising.

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