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Warm Up (and Cool Down) to Avoid Sports Injuries

March 14, 2015

Here in Central Florida, we are fortunate to have access to a wide array of sporting activities year-round. From soccer (how about those Orlando City Lions?!) to ice hockey, and everything in between, chances are good that your favorite sport has a court or league nearby.

Playing sports is a great way to stay active and fit. Whether you are a professional athlete or you play in a local rec league, sports can play a key role in keeping you healthy.

Unfortunately, many of us do not take the proper precautions to guard against injury. In my orthopedic sports medicine practice, I see a significant number of sports injuries that could probably have been avoided with a proper warm up and cool down protocol.

Taking the time to warm up allows your muscles, tendons and ligaments to better prepare for the physical demands of exercise. It increases blood flow and muscle temperature, allowing your body to acclimate to more intense activity. In an ideal scenario, you should follow a sport-specific dynamic warm up before you jump into the action.

Just as important as your warm up is your cool down period. After you’ve been playing hard, your body needs time to recover and readjust to a normal level of activity. You should aim to slowly reduce your rate of motion rather than crashing to an abrupt stop. Also, you’ll want to gradually reduce your heart rate.

As part of your cool down, you should stretch as soon as your breathing returns to normal. This will help you avoid future injuries by improving your range of motion and lessening muscle tension. Stretching will even improve your posture, allowing your body to stay in a natural, healthy position.

When you exercise, your body experiences fluid loss in the form of sweat. This can quickly lead to dehydration and overheating—especially in our warm Florida climate. It is important to replenish your fluids throughout your workout by drinking water or a low-sugar sports drink.

Despite your best efforts to reduce injuries, they are sometimes unavoidable in sports. If you do experience any pain or swelling, it’s important to stop what you are doing. Playing through an injury is likely to make the problem worse and slow your recovery time. Seek medical attention for any acute or persistent pain that feels different than normal muscle soreness.

Have fun out there this summer, but don’t neglect your warm up and cool down.