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Health & Fitness: What to Do About Muscle Ailments


By Kim Duke, NETA & AFAA Certified Trainer 

Try as we may, human beings are injury prone.  Whether you’re a competitive athlete, someone who exercises regularly to stay in shape or a couch potato, you will most likely have to deal with an injury that interrupts your routine at some point in your life.

A lack of muscle strength, inflexibility or imbalances can predispose you to injury.  However, even if you are athletic and fit, injuries can also occur as a result of overuse, poor execution or just an accidental mishap.   And as our population ages, we need to work twice as hard to stay in shape and it takes twice as long to heal from injuries we could typically rebound from as our younger selves.

As a trainer, my job is to strengthen your body’s muscles and create a well-balanced, flexible and injury resistant being.  However, even in the studio, injuries can happen.  Understanding your injury is the first defense in rehabilitating from it.

The following are the typical muscular complaints I hear and what is suggested to relieve them.

Tightness –Many of us are prone to this problem because of our extended periods of inactivity, either in front of a computer or sitting in a car.  When your movement is restricted with hips bent, it shortens your hip flexors (the muscles at the front) while strengthening your back hip muscles or glutes. That shortening can tighten your hip flexors and, over time, leave you more vulnerable to tears and strains in your back, hamstrings and even calves.

The fix for tight muscles is to get up and move as much as possible.  Whether that means taking a quick walk every hour at work or doing some periodic stretching for the back, hamstrings and calves.  If you can hit the gym, a program that keeps all muscles balanced is encouraged.  This means training both the front and backside of your body – think biceps/triceps, chest/back and quads and hamstrings.

Soreness – Stressing your muscles – say by lifting weight, moving furniture, doing lawn work or gardening creates microscopic tears.  These tears make you sore, but the process of breaking and rebuilding muscle could ultimately increase muscle mass so that you grow not only stronger, but also, leaner.

The fix for muscle soreness is to perform some activity.  Even though your impulse may be to laze around, don’t.  Just by taking a walk, oxygen consumption and blood flow will stimulate the muscles to repair themselves faster than if you did nothing.  Icing the sore area for 10 to 15 minutes also helps, as does taking an ibuprofen to reduce inflammation.

Strains – While getting micro-tears after a workout is common, larger tears, which may occur when the muscle is strained by stretching beyond its natural limit or suffering a blow, aren’t.

Typically, a strain feels like a sudden, severe pain accompanied by a popping or snapping.  Unlike soreness, this happens during the workout.  You may even see swelling or bruising when you strain a muscle.

The fix for muscle strains is RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), along with an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory.  But, if the pain does not seem to be getting better within 72 hours, see your doctor.

The fastest way to return to normal activity is to give your body the time it needs to rebuild its strength and conditioning.  Too often the tendency is to stop exercising completely once an injury has occurred.  Many people are unaware that fitness training and injury recovery go hand-in-hand.

After an injury, you should discuss any treatments with your doctor.  It is possible to continue fitness training even while healing from an injury.  In order to stay active while you are injured, work out the parts of the body that are not injured after carefully stretching the areas that are injured.

Remember to gradually return to your previous level of fitness without overdoing it.  Too rapid a return can lead to other problems like stress fractures or tendonitis.  Start small and try to add a little more with each successive workout.  Follow the advice of your physician and seek assistance from a qualified athletic trainer, physical therapist or other professional.

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