Guide to Injury Prevention and Recovery



Low Back Sprain/Strain

Triggers: Golf, tennis, Pilates, lifting a case of bottled water at Costco, pretzel positions between the sheets.

Baby got backache? When the muscles become overworked or overstretched in any direction, your back can feel as if it's been put through a shredder. One wrong twist and you're spending Sunday horizontal (and not in the fun way).

Tip-off: Pain that worsens over 24 hours and is sometimes accompanied by stiffness and muscle spasms.

Comeback strategy: Rehabilitation, plus an OTC painkiller. If you're still bed-bound after 48 hours, or if your butt or legs feel weak or numb, see your doctor. He may order X-rays to rule out a disc injury.

Time on the sidelines: You'll be up and around within a couple of days, but it could take up to six weeks before you can head back to the gym.

Prevent it with: The Groin Grinder. Your abs and lower back are like flip sides of the same coin. Strengthen one side and the other will benefit. Try some serious ab-chiselers, or (if the Twisting Windmill sounds a little intimidating). Try lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor and your arms by your sides, palms down. Slowly raise your butt and your lower back off the floor so that you could draw a straight diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for five seconds. Do five reps two to three times a week.

Tennis Elbow

Triggers: Tennis, raking leaves, screwing together Ikea furniture.

This one happens when the tendons that run up your forearm develop tiny tears where they attach to the elbow. It can be triggered by any repetitive activity in which you twist or rotate your forearm—not just by backhands.

Tip-off: Burning pain on the outside of your elbow (near your funny bone) that intensifies over weeks or months.

Comeback strategy: A wrist splint and rest, then physical therapy to help strengthen the forearm muscles. In rare situations, you may need surgery to remove a portion of the damaged tendon.

Time on the sidelines: Four to six weeks for the initial inflammation to ease up.

Prevent it with: The Forearm Crush. The most effective way to make your forearms Popeye-strong is also the easiest: squeezing a tennis ball. Crush for three seconds, then release. Work up to five sets of 20 reps on each hand once a day.

Shin Spints

Triggers: Running, jumping rope, overdoing your Dancing with the Stars routine in ballroom class.

When you land on your feet, your shins absorb a force equal to six times your body weight. Too much bounding around, and the sleeve of connective tissue that surrounds the bone can become overworked and inflamed.

Tip-off: Burning pain, swelling, and tenderness along the front or side of your shin.

Comeback strategy: Slashing the frequency and intensity of your training, then building back up more slowly. As a rule, if you're a runner, you shouldn't increase your distance or pace by more than 10 to 15 percent per week.

Time on the sidelines: From a couple of days to two weeks.

Prevent it with: The Toe Tussle. For shins that can withstand more stress than an air-traffic controller, sit in a chair with your knees bent 90 degrees and slowly tap your toes on the ground. Work up to 100 taps at a time. It's harder than you think.

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