sports injuryWhile playing sports can allow you to stay in shape and have a lot of fun, these activities are not without their risks. The CDC estimates that there are nearly 37.2 million injury-related ER visits every year, and nearly 3.2 million of those injuries are attributed to recreational activities and sports. The average sports injury can easily be treated by your local urgent care clinic, rather than the ER at the area hospital, which can potentially save you time and money while giving you the medical care you need.

However, it’s much better to prevent a sports injury from the start; that way, you won’t ever have to miss a game or take a break from surfing due to pain. Want to learn a bit more about how to keep these injuries from happening in the first place? Take a look at these three tips for preventing sports injuries.

Warm up and cool down your body
It may sound cliche, but warm-ups and cool-downs are vital for protecting your body and preventing a sports injury. During a five- or 10-minute warm-up, you should gently and slowly stretch your muscles to get them ready for whatever activity you’re about to engage in. This will get your blood flowing to your muscles and increase your overall flexibility, which will in turn reduce the chances that you’ll strain or pull a muscle during your activities. You should also walk or job during your warm-up.

Cool-downs should take about the same amount of time as warm-ups do and should follow immediately after your workout has finished. Slow your pace and walk to help your heart return to its normal rate. You should also gently stretch your muscles as your cool down, since this can prevent stiffness and bulkiness and can help your body recover from your exercise. Forgoing the cool-down stage is every bit as detrimental as skipping a warm-up, and in some cases, it can be even more harmful to your body.

Use the proper protective equipment
No matter what sport you play, you need to take steps to protect yourself. Using proper gear is not a sign of weakness; in fact, it’s a way to maintain your strength. If you play a team sport like football, soccer, or hockey, you should wear padding, head gear, mouth guards, recommended footwear, gloves, and any other standard gear. Those who engage in contact sports are particularly prone to sustaining a sports injury, and that means it’s even more important to wear this equipment. Those who engage in solo activities like surfing should invest in a high-quality board and wetsuit and be sure to use sunscreen and leg ropes for extra protection.

Take time off
You may be able to prevent serious injury simply by listening to your body and allowing it time to recover. Having several days of training or playing in a row can leave you much more vulnerable to injury. And while you might be tempted to push through discomfort or even pain, rest is actually what your body needs to repair itself. Some athletes feel uneasy about taking a day off, but it’s often the best thing you can do for yourself. You’ll be less tired and will able to build up your stamina more gradually, both of which will help you stay healthy and injury-free.

Assuming you have proper technique, follow regulations, and incorporate these tips into your routine, you will be in much better shape to prevent a sports injury. Be sure you know how to recognize unsafe environments and improve your skills so you can remove yourself safely from bad situations. Whether you love to partake in contact sports or surfing, these rules can keep you from needing to head to the walk in clinic for pain care.

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