This article appears in Fall Healthy Living 2018.

Staying active is key to good health. Don’t let common sprains and strains get in the way of your workout.

“While names sound the same, these are two very different injuries. A sprain affects ligaments, while a strain affects tendons and/or muscles,” said Dr. Frank Benedetto, a doctor of physical therapy and founder of ProVere Health, with four locations in New Jersey. “Ligaments connect one bone to another bone. For example, the most famous ligament in popular media, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (the shin bone). Tendons connect a muscle to a bone. The well known Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone.”

Other expert tips for avoiding workout injuries:

1Focus on hamstrings

While many sports tend to have a particular injury related to it — think “tennis elbow” — hamstring injuries are perhaps the most common across all sports, said Dr. Pablo Costa, an associate professor in the department of kinesiology at California State University, Fullerton.

Hamstrings deserve special attention. By strengthening the hamstrings you’re not only preventing injuries to those muscles, you’re helping protect your knees, Costa said. Hamstring curls and knee flexion exercises — in which you slowly straighten and bend your knee from a seated position — are particularly beneficial for strengthening the hamstrings, he said.

2Go slow and low

When exercising start slowly, with a few repetitions or low mileage, and make sure any progression or increase follows the same principles, said Dr. Jerome T. Nichols, sports medicine physician at Roanoke-based Carilion Clinic and clinical preceptor at Virginia Tech School of Medicine.

“Trying to progress too quickly doesn’t allow enough time for your muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones to adapt to the new stresses. Also, moving too quickly through strength training exercises compromises form and risks injury,” Nichols said.

3Listen to your body

“One of the worst phrases ever coined was ‘no pain, no gain,’” said Nichols. “Aches and pains in muscles are normal to some degree with any change in activity. Pain that gets progressively worse or is isolated to a bone or joint, however, may be a sign of something more serious developing. As you get more experienced exercising you’ll learn to recognize what kinds of pain are worrisome and which aren’t. Until or unless you have that experience, you should back off if your exercise routine is causing you significant discomfort and consider having (the painful area) checked by a physician.”


“Adequate consumption of water can help reduce tendon strains,” said Dr. Bruce Pinker, associate with the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. It is recommended adults drink eight to 10 glasses of water per day at 8 ounces per glass, Pinker said.

5Rest when needed

“The human body operates on a very simple formula: Stress plus rest equals growth,” Benedetto said. “In order to encourage adoption of this mindset, I like to redefine what I mean by ‘rest’ to the avid exercisers I work with. Rest can mean strength training, yoga, Pilates, cycling and any number of things that just aren’t replicating the same ‘stress’ that the client typically puts on the body.”