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Prevention better than cure

  • Story Highlights
  • 29 million sports injuries occur in Britain each year
  • Doctors can notify patients of weak areas and help them prevent injuries
  • Sedentary lifestyles can make those who pick up new sports injury-prone
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By Brigid Delaney
For CNN
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Finally you've decided to commit yourself to a sport -- you've brought the gear, you've joined a team, you've got the equipment -- then on your first try, an injury occurs. Doh!

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One-third of the 29 million sports injuries each year in Britain result in medical treatment or affect normal activities.

Sport's injuries needn't spell the end of your involvement in a new pastime and they also aren't a sign that you should be reverting to your old slothful ways in front of the TV.

There are 29 million sports injuries each year in Britain, according to Sheffield University research. One-third of these result in medical treatment or affect normal activities. The most common injuries are sprains and back strains -- yet our posture and how much time we spend in front of computers can also affect out likelihood of being injured once we become active.

PREVENTION BETTER THAN CURE

London based sports injury physiotherapist Mark Harrison is adamant about two things; prevention is better than cure and doing some exercise even though there may be risk of injury is far preferable to a sedentary lifestyle.

"Most commonly it's the recreational sportsmen we see a lot of," said Harrison of his Central London clinic. "They may want to start running but they have never really run in their life. We offer a body check and a muscle balance assessment to try and prevent injuries happening and identify what may lead to an injury in the future."

According to Harrison, different fitness levels and body types react differently to various sports and it's a good idea to find out your weak spots before embarking on a training regime: "We want to get the message out that before you start training you get checked out -- it's a form of preventative medicine."

Clare Dickson, 22 saw her local physiotherapist before she started on a fitness regime.

"It was great," she said. "I found out what areas were weak and I would need to concentrate on and that I had potential problems with my lower back."

The physiotherapist gave her exercises which she incorporates as part of her exercise regime.

"The weak muscles have been strengthened and I've avoided injury," she said.

RUNNING -- PROS AND PITFALLS

Every sport has its hazards -- even swimmers get injured (shoulders can be vulnerable according to Harrison) but the sport that seems to attract the most talk of injuries is running.

The most common injury runner's face is knee problems. "It's common with someone that hasn't done much running to get knee pain, back pain - any issues with their lower limbs," says Harrison.

But running is popular says Harrison because "people either go running for a cause or their mates are running. They see running as an easy option as you don't need equipment or a membership anywhere."

But the wrong shoes, failing to warm up and not being aware of strength or muscle balance can also cause injuries.

"With a sedentary lifestyle common these days, I'm not going to say 'don't do it.' I may suggest you mix it up with cycling and swimming unless there's a serious injury and a good medical reason not to."

Harrison divides most sport injuries into two main area -- traumatic where a frank injury has occurred (i.e. a fall while skiing) or overuse injuries where over time there has been wear and tear on the body.

He sees these injuries also being connected to poor posture at work and too much time spent in front of screens. The resulting exercise can then overload the body, causing an injury.

"A lot of the things we see with back and neck injuries are related to the way people are sitting at their desk. They are sitting down for 8 hours a day - it's loading the spine up and then when they go running it's the straw that breaks the camel's back. Taking regular breaks is important."

Amateur runner Dean Irvine, recently completed a half-marathon and says before he started running he went to a specialty running store where the staff watch you run up and down the street outside so they recommend shoes that are correct for the runner's gait.

Irvine also avoided injury by not over-training, building up to the distance he was to run in increments (twenty minutes run then building up to two hours) and stretching after a run.

BUT ... IF THERE'S AN INJURY

If you have been injured while playing sport, it's important to stop, rest then get it checked out.

Says Harrison, "We try and get people in straight away and get it checked out. If you leave it and try and go back to the sport, the injury may not have had time to recover."

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Your body may also use different muscles to avoid the injured muscles creating new ways you go an exercise which "could create another injury later on," says Harrison.

As for Web sites offering a range of diagnosis and treatment, Harrison says they can be handy -- but only to a point; "Everyone's body is different, so it's important to get professional advice." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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