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Amping Up Your New Workout Routine? Avoid (and Heal) Common Injuries

February 9, 2016

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

You’re on a treadmill daydreaming of dinner:

"Am I in the mood for fish? Is this more of a hearty salad kind of night? Maybe I’ll get Prosecco. It’s been a while since I’ve had some bubbly. Plus, I’m at the gym right now. I deserve a….”                                 

BAM! BOOM! SPLAT!

Crowds of people at the gym hover over you and confirm that they witnessed your accidental acrobatics. “That looked really bad,” you hear, as you evaluate the harm to your body and your ego.

If you’re like 150 million Americans who have made resolutions to better yourself this year, it’s important to learn how to stay safe while getting healthy––and how to treat those “dreadmill” injuries, if they occur.

Puns aside, exercise injuries can be quite serious. Nearly half a million people cite exercise-related injuries as their reason for visiting the emergency room each year. And treadmills are responsible for a whopping 66% of our “oops” moments in the gym.

Prevention is key when it comes to keeping your mind and body healthy. The following dos and don’ts will help you stay safe while you’re dreaming of food on the elliptical or roughing it through a tiring workout:

Do…

Put your phone down.

While we’ve actually adjusted quite well to the text-while-you-walk lifestyle, research has found that the number of pedestrian injuries while texting exceeded the number of texting and driving injuries. That’s right: you’re more likely to be hurt walking and using your phone than driving while doing the same. Unplug while you workout!

Use proper technique.

Whether it’s a high-tech, touch-screen elliptical or a low-tech shake weight (yes, those things are real), it’s important to follow the equipment’s instructions. We’ve all seen that one person at the gym who’s using the equipment backward and inside-out. Pay close attention to the diagram on the weighted machines, and heed warnings on all larger equipment. If you’re not sure how to do something, ask a gym staff member or trainer; it’s their job to help you.

Warm up.

The jury’s still out on whether a lengthy warmup is as beneficial for our bodies as we once thought. But most doctors and trainers agree that it can’t hurt to stretch, loosen your joints, and shake out any tension you have from a long day of sitting before you pound the pavement. Ease into new moves, and you’ll likely avoid strains that commonly occur when you jump into a new routine too quickly.

Ask your doctor for recommendations.

If you’re new at this, your doctor can help you choose a starting regimen that works with your unique body. They know your health history, like weak joints or breathing problems––and you can trust that they want you to get healthier!

Don’t...

Fall for fads.

Just because hot yoga is all the rage doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to jump into. If you have never practiced before––and “down dog” describes more what you do to a frankfurter than on a mat––stick to a basic class first. You can also try new things for fun after your body is used to regular exercise.

Run a marathon the first day you set out to jog.

Are you seeing a trend here? Start slow, and work your way up when building on a cardio routine. The “couch-to-5k” mentality sets you on a good path, and you can even recruit friends and family to get started with you. Running and walking is a great way to get your family out in the fresh air while you get some steps in.

Ignore your body’s signals.

When your vision goes a little blurry or you feel your knees start to buckle, your body is waving a yellow flag. There’s no shame in stopping for a water break every few minutes, especially when the temperatures start to climb or if you’re in a crowded gym.

Forget to rest.

You know what the best part is about getting healthy? Treating yourself. When you’ve worked your butt off for 4 or 5 days this week, make sure you sleep in on Saturday and sneak some (healthy-ish) dessert when your soul needs it.

When Is It Time to Call the Doctor?

Even the smartest, most cautious individuals may still have a streak of bad luck and stumble on the road to health. If it’s serious (e.g., gushing blood, loss of consciousness…), it’s important to call 911 and seek emergency help. If it’s less serious, but you can’t simply “walk it off,” then it’s important to seek medical expertise. (Note: Seeking medical expertise is not equal to “Googling” or reading blogs…unless it’s this blog, of course.)

Treat injuries quickly.

If you’re lucky and one of the 30% of employees in the U.S. who have a telemedicine benefit, use it! A physician can aide in helping you evaluate if, for example, the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is the best course of action. They can also gauge if it’s more serious, or from whom to seek care next, like the urgent care, ER, or your primary doctor’s office.

Muscle and joint injuries were one of the top 10 reasons First Stop Health members sought a telemedicine consultation in 2015. The majority of patients were talking with a doctor in less than 5 minutes. From sprained ankles after softball to injured backs after lifting turkeys, First Stop Health doctors helped a number of people by providing peace of mind, treatment, and recommendations for the next course of action.


Keep prevention top-of-mind this year as you take on the spring season of working out and getting active. You spare yourself an injury every time you warm up, stretch well, sleep right, and listen to your body’s red flags.

But if you do take a tumble on the treadmill or drop a dumbbell on your toe, don’t be afraid to call your telemedicine physician. You’ll walk away with peace of mind and a game plan for getting back to the gym in no time.

Originally published Feb 9, 2016 1:30:00 PM.