Sports injuries can plague athletes -- even the seasoned ones. Take Lucien Peron, who hurt his ankle after running the gruelling Ironman triathlon. “One day I came back from cycling and started running on the treadmill and I heard a ripping sound in my ankle,” says Peron, a native of Toronto. “My family doctor diagnosed it as a rupture of the protective lining on one of the tendons.” Peron was prescribed rest and physiotherapy.

The injury left Peron with a tricky ankle, and has made him a more cautious athlete. He says he now adjusts his gait to reduce the pressure he puts on his heel. “I make sure to maintain consistent form while training and racing.”

Overuse injuries the most common

“Sports injuries pretty well all fall into the overuse category,” says Dr. Julia Alleyne, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s David L. Macintosh Sports Clinic. She says that 30 to 35% of beginners are likely to injure themselves, while only 5% of more experienced athletes hurt themselves.

Alleyne says causes of injury include:

  • Accelerating the pace too quickly after beginning training
  • Increasing distance run by more than 10% from one run to the next
  • Not allowing two to three recovery days between workouts
  • Always exercising on the same surface, such as running on concrete, and always following the same route

She says that strains, sprains and stress fractures are the most common injuries she sees, with knee and hip injuries most often plaguing runners, neck and knee injuries striking cyclists and shoulder strains affecting swimmers. Often, she says, injuries can occur when people decide to train for a marathon instead of the 5K runs they have been used to, during a period of transition in which the body has to make a big physical leap.

Warning signs of an injury include:

  • Severe swelling, heat and redness around a joint
  • Pain that gets worse over time
  • Pain spreading from one location to another, such as radiating from a hip down a leg
  • Pain at night

If you’re suffering from any of these symptoms, see your family doctor, who may refer you to a sports medicine doctor or sports therapy practitioner, Alleyne advises.

Prevention is the best policy

Avoiding sports injuries isn’t difficult, says Alleyne. It means ensuring your diet, exercise regimen and gear are sound. Her recommendations:

  1. Eat well. That means good sources of carbohydrates and protein. If you’re deficient in either group, consider supplements.
  2. Choose a diverse fitness regimen. This will ensure you build different sets of muscles and help prevent overusing the same ones.
  3. Proper gear is essential. If you’re running, choose shoes that are best shaped for your gait, which a specialty store can determine. If you’re running three times a week, retire each pair of runners after six to 12 months.
  4. Ensure proper form. Learn proper swimming, cycling and running techniques from a pro, so you’re not straining your muscles.

And if you do sustain an injury, take care to treat it effectively before resuming an aggressive exercise program. “Most of these injuries resolve with rehabilitation, exercise modification and medication,” says Alleyne.

Try these tips to prevent or manage sports injuries:

  • Cross-train with a variety of sports. Try yoga and running, or swimming and cycling.
  • If your injury isn’t responding to rehab, have your doctor reassess it.
  • Listen to your body. If a workout makes your feel worse, not better, you’re likely overdoing it.