Whether you play sports for competition or fitness, you don’t want to be sidelined with an injury. Time away from the game or forced inactivity is something we all want to avoid. While it is impossible to prevent every injury, taking preventative action can go a long way. Use these general rules for injury prevention no matter what sport you play.

Always remember to warm up

Warming up and cooling down is more than an athletic ritual  it gradually transitions your body from a neutral state into the high speeds and ambitious stunts of an athlete. Practicing physiologic warming through isometrics protects the muscles and adds flexibility that sustains any following activity.

Start your workout with light preparation and stretching exercises to prepare your muscles. The cool down allows your body to gradually return to a resting state, which promotes overall health and avoids injury.

Wear the right protective gear

Protective pads, mouth guards, helmets, gloves, and other equipment are not for those you consider weak; they are for everyone. Protective equipment that fits you well can save your knees, hands, teeth, eyes, and head.

If you’ve already suffered from an injury, it’s even more important to protect the ligament or muscle when you play. Wearing a knee brace (or any kind of brace) can provide the support and compression your muscles need to heal. They can help to reduce pain and keep the area protected during activity.

Know the rules of the sport

The rules are designed, in part, to keep things safe. This is extremely important for anyone who participates in a contact sport. You need to learn them and to play by the rules of conduct. Respect the rules on illegal procedures and insist on enforcement by referees, umpires, and judges. These rules are there to keep athletes healthy.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep

The body repairs itself when it rests. That includes getting at least eight hours of sleep at night, though young athletes may require more. It also means taking breaks when your body feels tired. Overtraining can lead to injury  and if every session involves hard workouts, your body doesn’t have time to heal from the last one. You can start to lose form, which can result in an injury.

Maintain a healthy diet

This is an important part of injury-free sports performance. Make sure to eat meals regularly  avoiding long gaps between your meals and snacks can help prevent energy lows. Be sure to get plenty of lean protein since it’s critical for growth and repair, as well as fruits, vegetables, and fiber. Stick to an unprocessed diet as much as you can. This of course also means keeping your body hydrated, not only during your activity, but off the field or court as well.

Give old injuries enough time to heal

Unfortunately, many athletes know what happens when they get back onto the field too soon after an injury  they just get injured again. You may reinjure the same spot, or develop a new problem area because you’re overcompensating for the old injury.

It’s important to listen to your doctor, and be sure to keep coaches informed about your condition. They need all the facts about your recovery to continue to keep you safe.

See your doctor before the season starts

Schedule a visit or a physical with your doctor before the season starts. A comprehensive exam can tell you and your doctor if anything needs to be addressed before you get back on the field  whether it’s potential for a sprain or a problem you weren’t even aware of at the moment. Preventive medicine is always the most effective way to avoid sports related injuries. Plus, you can get treatment for any new conditions, no matter how minor.

From wearing the right back brace or support to maintaining a healthy diet year-round, there are plenty of ways to prevent potential sports injuries and stay in the game!

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