There are always stories flying around about how to avoid injury, as well as what activities can cause injuries. Some of these stories are true, but unfortunately many are false, and it is these false stories that can cause people to stop doing a perfectly healthy activity – or start doing something that could cause real damage.
In this article, we explore seven of the most common injury myths that you often hear, to examine the science behind the claims and find out the truth behind the myths.
1. Running is bad for the knees
This is a common complaint from people who are trying to come up with excuses not to start running! Although it is true that there is more pressure placed on joints and bones when running than when walking, running is still an excellent activity for not only losing weight but also getting fit and healthy, and keeping your heart and lungs in top condition. Another benefit of running is that it can actually help to strengthen your bones and ligaments, making your skeleton and muscles stronger. This means that regular runners are less likely to break a bone when falling as they get older.
Running places a stress of about three times your bodyweight on your knees and other joints when moving. This is because your weight is only ever balanced on one leg at a time when you run, as opposed to walking, where your weight is always supported by both legs. This might sound like a lot of pressure, but your body is actually designed for this activity and humans have always run throughout our history. The knees have protective tissues to provide a natural cushioning (cartilage) from this kind of impact. The ankles and feet are designed to provide support and cushioning from impact when running too, such as the arch of the foot, so not all the pressure is absorbed by your knees alone. Running is a great exercise and if done properly, should not damage the knees, especially if you run on softer surfaces such as grass or mud trails. This is why running technique and footwear are extremely important.
2. No pain, no gain
One of the classic myths is that when you exercise, you should feel some level of pain or else your exercise is not doing you much good. Nothing could be further from the truth! Exercise can be uncomfortable sometimes, if you are pushing yourself hard, but it should never be actually painful. If an exercise is hurting you, then you need to stop immediately. The pain is telling you that you are damaging some part of your body, whether that is a limb, a bone or an organ and this pain is a clear message that you need to stop exercising right away or risk further damage.
If you ignore a pain and push through it, then you risk causing permanent damage. Although it might seem better at first to keep training, as you don’t want to stop and lose your momentum, if you actually carry on beyond your pain threshold, you might cause severe damage that will injure you and keep you of training for much longer. What a false economy! If you are in pain while running or swimming, for example, your natural movement will be altered as you try to deal with the pain. So your gait or your stroke will change and become increasingly dysfunctional as you become more exhausted. Although this won’t matter if done only occasionally, if you keep moving in a dysfunctional way, this could become ingrained into your muscles and you could have problems moving in the correct way in the future.
3. Your hips hurt - it must be a hip problem
Just because one part of your body hurts, it does not mean that the problem is coming from that body part. It might be a symptom of a bigger problem elsewhere. For example, a sore hip could actually be from a problem with your running style or from ill-fitting shoes. A sore shoulder might be due to a problem with your hip. Remember the muscles in the body all work together with other muscles to move the body. A dysfunctional movement in one place in the body can affect a different muscle quite far away from it. So a dysfunctional gait can make a sore hip, which can lead to the body over-compensating and swinging the opposite shoulder more strongly. You feel soreness in your shoulder and assume this is the problem area rather than the original problem, which is your running gait.
4. Rest is always best
Although severe injuries do require rest to make sure your muscles are sufficiently recovered, there is no need to become sedentary. In fact, more damage can be done if you stay still too long. If you rest up for too long without taxing your muscles, your strength diminishes, as does your cardiovascular endurance levels. You need to come back from injury slowly and carefully, but this does not mean bed rest or sofa rest for months at a time. If you have a leg injury, there is no reason to stop exercising your upper body. You can even do weight lifting from your chair and seated exercise can also be done to help retain stamina. Swimming may be fine for some types of leg injury, depending on the stroke, as this supports your body weight in the water. Equally, an arm injury does not necessarily mean you cannot go running or do squats and lunges to strengthen your legs.
5. You should always stretch before a workout
Stretching can help to prevent injury and it is a great idea to make stretching an important part of your pre and post workout routine. However, too much stretching with cold muscles can be damaging to the delicate tendons and ligaments. Muscles should be warmed up before you start stretching them. This means walking briskly for five minutes and swinging the arms before stretching gently. The warm up you do should depend on the intended vigour of the exercise session that follows. If you are going for an hour’s run, then stretching your muscles is important and you should do a warm up jog for five or ten minutes before stretching your muscles well. At the end of your session, you should also stretch to remove lactic acid and prevent muscle soreness later on. The idea that heavy stretching should always be done before any type of exercise is mistaken and could well harm your muscles if they are still cold.
6. Running fast is bad for you
Running fast has sometimes been said to increase the risk of injury. It is true that speedy running makes the muscles work harder, but this is not a bad thing. In fact, there has been no evidence to suggest that more injury will result from fast paced running - quite the reverse. Speed work helps to strengthen the leg muscles and should therefore help to prevent injuries. The stronger the muscle around a joint, the better protected the joint is. Running fast is a good way of bringing some resistance work into your cardio session, as it taxes the leg muscle much more than long slot running. Just think of a sprinter’s muscular body compared with marathon runner’s slender body. Sprinting builds muscle and uses short twitch fibres in your body, while long distance running uses the slow twitch muscle fibres which do not build muscle. While both types of running are good for you, running faster uses more muscle.
7. You can turn fat into muscle
Exercise can burn fat and build muscle, but one will never turn into the other. This is simply not possible, as the two are totally different types of tissue. When you stop exercising, your muscle will diminish, but it does not literally turn into fat. The fat content may increase in your body and the muscle mass may decrease without continual resistance and cardio exercise, but the muscle and fat do not affect each other in this way. The way to keep fat off your body is to eat sensibly and exercise frequently. This good diet and exercise routine will keep your body in the best condition and help you avoid injury.