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Keep the Olympic flame burning: exercise safely

As people around the UK get set to join in a sport on the first weekend after the Olympics, an expert on sports and exercise medicine from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, part of Queen Mary, University of London, has stressed emerging evidence that injury can be prevented using new approaches. This was crucial so that people stayed engaged with new activity to gain long-term benefits, he said.

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The “Join in local sport” event, taking place on August 18 and 19 nationwide, aims to capitalise on the success of the Olympics by encouraging as many people as possible to take part in a sport in their area. Some may be trying sport for the first time since leaving school, or seeing if they like a sport they haven’t tried before.

Dr Dylan Morrissey, Senior Clinical Lecturer and Consultant Physiotherapist at Queen Mary, University of London’s Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine, said: “We know that exercise and sport are good for both physical and mental health, so it’s great that initiatives such as ‘Join in’ are using the enthusiasm for sport sparked by the Olympic spirit to encourage as many people as possible to give sport a go. Although injuries can occur during exercise, many can be avoided if some simple precautions are taken. These include preparing properly with warm-up exercises, particularly exercises that focus on how people move. For example, good lower limb alignment during landing and changing direction definitely reduces the risk of knee injuries.

Dr Morrissey, who will be working as a ParalympicsGB physiotherapist, has written the Arthritis Research UK information booklet, “Sport and exercise injuries”, in association with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists. In addition, in a paper published on BioMedCentral his team reviewed the simple warm up-strategies that are most successful at avoiding injuries to feet, ankles and legs. “We have deliberately reviewed simple strategies that can be most widely used, and require no specialist equipment or extra training so they have the widest possible application,” he said.

“There are a number of things you can do to prevent sport and exercise injuries. The important things to remember are to build up gradually, especially if you haven’t done much sport up to now, get fit for the sport that you are doing with aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises, learn the correct body alignment and techniques, get the right equipment such as running shoes that support your feet correctly, warm up and warm down, and fuel your body by choosing the right food to eat.”

In the review of the most effective warm-up exercises, Dr Morrissey and his colleagues found that there were “several areas that may account for significantly better injury prevention when implementing neuromuscular warm-up strategies. These include: (1) incorporation of stretching, strengthening and balance exercises, sports-specific agility drills and landing techniques; (2) completing the strategy for longer than three consecutive months; and (3) completing the strategy at all participation sessions.”

Dr Morrissey concluded: “It is important that people are not deterred from exercise by the fear of injury. If you take some simple precautions, you will avoid much of the risk. And don’t forget, not exercising can also cause injury, as well as contributing to many long-term conditions such as those affecting the heart and lungs. So get exercising, have fun and be safe.”

The “Sport and exercise injuries” booklet is available from Arthritis Research UK as a free download from the website or in printed form (

The review article is available on open access at

In addition to Dr Morrissey, Queen Mary, University of London has a large number of staff, students and alumni taking part in the Olympics and Paralympics See this QM pages for more:

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