Author: Dale Beran, M.D.
Now that the weather is starting to cool down, more people are looking to go outside and get some exercise, optimistically trying to shed a few pounds before the holidays get here. Unfortunately, since the majority of the population has been in quarantine for the last several months getting their money’s worth from their chosen streaming service and snacking frequently, physical activity has been mostly an afterthought until now. Restarting exercise out of the blue like this can put someone at an increased risk of injuries.
Two of the more common terms people say when they hurt themselves from restarting activity are, “I pulled a muscle,” and “I twisted my ankle.” These are two different types of injuries. Pulling a muscle, in medical terms, is called a muscle strain. This normally happens from over exerting a muscle or muscle group that is not used to contracting that forcefully or has not been properly stretched. The best ways to prevent muscle strains is to stretch well before exercising and to avoid overexerting yourself when you first start. Just because you could bench press 300 pounds back in high school, or you could run 3 miles straight “back in the day” does not mean that you should start out at that much. If you do manage to strain a muscle, there are a few things that can help. Resting the muscle will give your body time to heal the damage, and unfortunately, this process can take several weeks or more to get back to 100%. In those weeks, you can help your body heal the strained muscle heal faster by gently massaging the muscle, this will increase blood flow to the muscle. Apply ice in a towel for 20 minutes to decrease inflammation, and then apply a heating pad for 20 minutes will bring new blood flow to the area.
The medical term for twisting your ankle is a sprained ligament of the ankle joint. This means that ligaments (the tissue that connects bone to another bone) have been stretched further than they should have, commonly from stepping wrong. This can happen to any joint, but the ankles are injured more commonly because they hold all of our weight. The best way to prevent this is to wear good running shoes and to run on a level flat surface. The healing of these ligaments can also take several weeks, and the pneumonic RICE can be applied (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). You will want to rest the joint for a bit, meaning decrease the amount of movement that joint gets; an ankle brace is great for this. Ice and heat, similar to healing a strained muscle, will help decrease inflammation and increase blood flow to the injured ligament. Since a sprained ankle can swell up, placing a compression wrap on them can help with the pain, as well as elevating the injured joint level with the heart. If you are unable to put weight on the joint or the bony sides of the ankle are very painful, you should go see your doctor to make sure there is not a broken bone connected to one of those ligaments.
Injuries are a common barrier to exercising for a lot of people that want to improve their health, and getting back in shape is one of the best things you can do to help your quality and length of life. So, in summary get back out there and exercise! Just do it in a way that will prevent you from getting injured. And if you do happen to hurt yourself, do what you can to help your body heal itself.
Dr. Beran is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.