To prevent injury during exercise or physical activity, follow some easy tips. Wear appropriate protective gear, use correct techniques, get adequate hydration (water) and sun protection, and exercise on well-prepared surfaces. Warming up and cooling down may help to reduce muscle soreness. Avoid exercise when in pain or fatigued.
There is a risk of injury with any type of physical activity. Generally the benefits of staying active far outweigh the risks. With preparation and common sense, you can reduce your risk of exercise injury and continue to gain health and fitness benefits.
Some types of physical activity, such as high-speed activities or contact sports, involve specific injury risks. Some of the more general injury risk factors include:
- Inexperience or poor technique (‘form’)
- Failure to wear appropriate protective equipment
Reduce your risk of injury
General suggestions for reducing your risk of injury include:
- Have a medical check-up before you begin if you have a medical condition, are overweight, are aged over 40 years or haven’t exercised regularly for a long time.
- Exercise regularly to keep yourself in good physical condition.
- Gradually increase intensity after a break or when starting something new.
- Learn, practise and use correct skills and techniques. Seek instruction on maintaining good form and control during your chosen activity. You may consider consulting a coach to help you devise a program to suit you.
- Use appropriate protective equipment and dress for the conditions. Avoid overheating and protect against cold.
- Be SunSmart. Protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation and sun damage. Wear a hat, suitable clothing and Australian Standard approved sunglasses. Apply 30+ water-resistant sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin and reapply regularly.
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after activity.
- Avoid exercise when in pain or fatigued.
- Don’t exercise if you’ve been drinking alcohol or have taken other drugs that may affect your physical or mental state.
- Make sure qualified first aid personnel, first aid kits and emergency contact numbers are available where appropriate.
Avoid dehydration and heat stress
Dehydration reduces exercise performance and increases the risk of heat-related illness. It can cause cramping of the muscles.
Warm up and cool down
Warming up before exercise helps to loosen muscles, increase blood flow and prepare your whole body for exercise. Light exercise to help you cool down slowly helps the whole body recover from exercise. There is some proof that warming up and cooling down can (slightly) reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Warming up has also been shown to improve performance during exercise.
Warm up and cool down with a light level of activity that uses your whole body for about 10 minutes, such as brisk walking or jogging.
Check environment and equipment safety
Hard or uneven surfaces, low levels of lighting and extreme weather conditions are just some of the environmental factors that can increase your risk of injury.
- Take responsibility for checking and maintaining the safety of the exercise area and equipment.
- Be aware of potential hazards beyond your control such as motor vehicles, animals or wayward balls.
- Make sure children are supervised at all times by a responsible adult.
- Make sure you have the correct safety equipment for the sport. Examples of safety gear designed to protect you during exercise include helmets, mouthguards, protective eyewear, shoes, shin guards, wrist guards, elbow and knee pads, gloves, athletic cups and padding.
- Avoid the hazard of poorly fitting or maintained equipment. Make sure your gear is the correct size, fits well, is approved by the organisation governing the sport and is properly maintained.
If an injury occurs
- Stop exercise immediately to help prevent any further damage and to avoid delayed recovery.
- Seek first aid.
- Seek treatment from a health professional sooner rather than later and follow their advice on a safe return to activity.
Different attitudes about stretching to prevent injury
Stretching, warming up and cooling down were previously thought to aid injury prevention during exercise. However, there is not a lot of evidence that these activities are effective in reducing exercise injury risk.
There is some evidence that warming up and cooling down might help to reduce muscle soreness after exercise, even if they don’t prevent injuries. Careful stretching can be included as part of your overall warm-up and cool-down routine. Some people also find psychological benefits in stretching and warming up to put them in the right frame of mind for exercise or to help them relax after exercise.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Exercise physiologist ESSA Exercise & Sports Science Australia
- Sports physician
- Australian Physiotherapy Association Tel. (03) 9092 0888
- Smartplay Tel. (03) 9674 8777
- Sports Medicine Australia.
Things to remember
- There is a risk of injury with any type of physical activity but, generally, the benefits of staying active far outweigh the risks.
- With preparation and common sense, you can reduce your risk of exercise injury and continue to gain health and fitness benefits.
- Avoid exercise when in pain or fatigued.
- Stop exercise immediately if you are injured and seek medical advice before starting exercise again.
You might also be interested in:
- Aerobics - preventing injury.
- Australian rules football - preventing injury.
- Basketball - preventing injury.
- Canoeing and kayaking - preventing injury.
- Cricket - preventing injury.
- Cycling - preventing injury.
- Cycling health and safety tips.
- Dancing - preventing injury.
- Exercise - everyday activities.
- Exercise intensity.
- Exercise programs.
- Exercises that could be harmful.
- Fishing - preventing injury.
- Fitness centres - how to choose one.
- Gardening safety.
- Golf - preventing injury.
- Healthy ageing - stay physically active.
- Heat stress and sport - reducing the risks.
- Knee injuries.
- Lawn bowls - preventing injury.
- Martial arts - preventing injury.
- Neck and shoulder pain.
- Netball - preventing injury.
- Orienteering - preventing injury.
- Physical activity - choosing the one for you.
- Physical activity - it's important.
- Physical activity - men.
- Physical activity - overcoming the barriers.
- Physical activity - women.
- Pilates - health benefits.
- Pilates and yoga - health benefits.
- Resistance training - advanced.
- Resistance training - beginners.
- Resistance training - health benefits.
- Rowing - preventing injury.
- Rugby Union - preventing injury.
- Running and jogging - preventing injury.
- Shin splints.
- Soccer - preventing injury.
- Sports injuries.
- Sprains and strains.
- Squash - preventing injury.
- Surfing - preventing injury.
- Swimming - preventing injury.
- Tennis - preventing injury.
- Touch football - preventing injury.
- Walking for good health.
- Water polo - preventing injury.
- Windsurfing - preventing injury.
- Winter sports and cold-related injuries.
- Yoga - health benefits.
Want to know more?
Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
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University of Melbourne
Last reviewed: October 2012
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