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Ask the Expert | When starting an exercise routine, how can people avoid injuries?

When starting an exercise routine, how can people avoid injuries?

First and foremost, exercise is a great way to stay healthy. We encourage pretty much all of our patients, regardless of age, to participate in some sort of exercise to strengthen bones, build up their heart and lungs and boost their mental wellbeing. While some traumatic injuries are unfortunately unavoidable while exercising, injury prevention is still an important goal for all athletes, as well as medical providers.

Sports injuries can broadly be categorized into two categories: acute and chronic.

Acute injuries happen suddenly — for example, when someone trips and falls while running, or twists his or her knee during basketball. Acute injuries include things like fractures (breaks in the bone), anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus tears and shoulder dislocations.

Chronic injuries refer to problems caused by overuse, and they develop gradually over time. These include things like arthritis, tendinitis and stress fractures. In terms of body parts, the four most commonly affected areas are the knee, shoulder, ankle and hip, with more than 50% of sports injuries affecting the knee.

Regardless of what type of exercise or sports you participate in, there are a few general principles that can help minimize the risk of injuries:

Practice proper technique. Consider taking lessons or working with a more seasoned individual prior to a new exercise routine to make sure you are executing movements properly and not placing unnecessary stress on your body.

Stretch. Stretching prior to exercise is also highly recommended to loosen up muscles, tendons and ligaments and increase blood flow to the tissues prior to more rigorous activity.

Wear appropriate footwear and equipment.

Rest. As orthopedic surgeons, we often treat chronic overuse injuries that can occur from over-training. Make sure you get adequate rest between games and practice to allow your body to recover.

Proper nutrition. A proper diet and hydration plan can not only maximize your performance during exercise, but also improve recovery and minimize injury.

Particularly for our younger athletes, there is fairly good data suggesting that diversifying the sports that you play early on and not doing the same activity year-round also may help minimize the risk of overuse injuries.

Injury prevention also changes with age. As we get older, our bodies and joints may not respond as well to sudden increases in activity level, and so easing into new activities and perhaps turning to lower-impact sports can be helpful.

When athletes dealing with an injury should see a doctor depends on the type of injury. For any significant acute injury where there’s a lot of swelling to the joint, bruising, new weakness or pain with even basic activities like walking, you should definitely see a doctor to be evaluated. For more chronic injuries, it depends on how badly it’s impacting your day-to-day activities or quality of life. For these chronic injuries, if you’ve tried rest and rehabilitation and you have not recovered, you should be seen by a medical professional.

Here in Charlottesville, we’re fortunate to have the UVa Orthopedic Center on Ivy Road, which is one of the largest outpatient orthopedic centers in the country providing not only orthopedic services, but physical therapy, imaging, ultrasound-guided injections, custom orthotics and prosthetics, as well as an in-house pharmacy.

For more information about orthopedic care at UVa Health, visit


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