We all know regular vigorous exercise is good for our mind and body.  However the risk of muscle strains and sprains increases as you get physical. Warming up your muscles before physical activity can help avoid this. To further help avoid injury, a good prevention plan is to stretch after you are done exercising, too.

What Is The Difference Between A Sprain and A Strain?

A sprained muscle is actually a torn ligament, the fibrous tissue that connects the bones in your joints.  Pain, swelling and limited mobility is often the result. Sprains are most common in large joints like the ankle, knee, elbow and shoulders.

A strain is an injury to a muscle or a tendon that causes a large tear to form in the fibers. Pain and a feeling of weakness in the muscle can be minor or extremely painful, depending on the size of the tear.

The Warm-Up

Easing your body into a workout is essential for optimum performance and to avoid injuries. Warming up your body gets all your muscles and systems ready to exercise.  It will speed up your heart rate slightly, incite your lungs to pull in more oxygen for your cells to convert to energy, and stimulate the muscles.

Take a few minutes each day to walk swinging your arms gently, raising your knees to hip level and twisting slowly in a controlled manner (no rapid, jerking movements) to loosen up your core and limbs; this will help to avoid a strain or sprain during vigorous physical activity.  Loosen up your large joints like the knees and ankles by moving them in large circles getting them prepared for your bike ride, run or softball game.

This is referred to as dynamic stretching and loosens up your muscles, gradually providing increased range of motion, but not to the point where you strain or tear a muscle.

Related: Ayurveda Honors the Mind-Body-Spirit Connection

The Home Stretch

The best time to stretch more deeply is following a workout, when muscles are safely warmed.  

Static stretching (stretching and holding) is a great strains and sprains prevention activity.  It can help increase the range of motion of your muscles by lengthening and stretching muscle fibers; making them more flexible and less likely to suffer a strain or pull.  It also lowers a risk of sprain by correcting muscle imbalances where they attach to the joint.

You can use your warm up dynamic stretches but hold them much longer. Instead of just raising your knee up and down, grab hold beneath your thigh and pull the knee closer to your chest to stretch your hamstring muscles.

A good rule to follow when doing static stretching is to ease into the stretch and hold it for 30-45 seconds.

Not Just For Workouts

Warming up your muscles and keeping them flexible is a good idea even when you are not preparing for a workout.  If you plan to move heavy boxes or pushing your kids on the swing at the park, warming your muscles before you start can help prevent strains or sprains.

After a long day of moving boxes, putting up holiday decorations or even just cleaning the house, take a few minutes to stretch your major muscle groups when they will be at their most flexible.