Most gyms are fairly safe and controlled environments but, as with any physical activity, injuries can still happen. Here are five essential first aid items that a regular gym user should keep at home or in their bag.
The injuries you’re most likely to pick up in the gym are soft tissue injuries like strains and sprains along with all the general aches and pains that come from overuse (or from performing unaccustomed movements when you’re new to an exercise.) One of the best ways of easing this kind of pain is to apply an ice pack to the affected area. Cold will numb the pain and help bring down swelling. Some sources also claim that applying ice will speed recovery, but the evidence for that isn’t clear.
Various kinds of ice pack are available. Instant cold packs are probably the quickest and most convenient – you just shake them up, sparking a chemical reaction inside the bag that makes them instantly cold. Instant cold packs are cheap and disposable. Numerous types of reusable cold pack are also available, usually filled with some kind of thermal gel. Being reusable, they’re better long term-value than instant cold packs, but you do have to wait for them to cool down in the fridge (unless you’re prepared to keep one in there permanently.) You could also use a traditional ice bag – as often seen at boxing matches – which are just waterproof bags with a screw cap and filled with ice cubes. A traditional ice bag is certainly the coldest type of ice pack you can practically use, but does have the obvious disadvantage that you must mess around making and handling real ice.
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We have sung the praises of cohesive bandage on this blog before. To recap, it’s a stretchy tape that does not stick to the skin or hair but does stick to itself. These properties make it excellent for comfortably, but securely, wrapping around limbs.
If you have a soft tissue injury, one of the immediate treatments is compression, and cohesive bandage is often the best way of applying compression. You can quickly and easily wrap the injury in cohesive bandage, which will help prevent excessive swelling. See our guide to wrapping a sprained ankle as an example, but you could just as well use cohesive bandage on elbows, knees, wrists etc…
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It’s easy to pick up small cuts and scratches in the gym – for instance, by pinching your finger between two weight plates, or scraping your shin against a barbell that some genius has left in the middle of the floor. Contrary to popular belief, cuts do not heal better if they’re left to dry out. A plaster will provide a good, moist healing environment as well as protect the wound from dirt and infection. So if you don’t already own some, consider investing in a box of good-quality plasters.
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An injury doesn’t have to be serious to be uncomfortable, and any pain can distract and detract from your daily activities. Unless you know of a health reason why you shouldn’t take painkillers, there is no harm in using them to ease your recovery. Ibruprofen is usually recommended for soft tissue injuries, because as well as killing pain it has an anti-inflammatory effect to reduce the swelling. Always follow the instructions on the packet.
While not strictly a first aid item, keeping a bottle of hand sanitiser in your kit bag will help protect your health more generally. Gyms are high-traffic areas filled with all kinds of different people who are all handling and sweating over the same equipment. Colds, flus, stomach bugs and skin conditions are all easily passed on in the gym. Therefore it’s a great idea to use a hand sanitiser to kill any bugs you have picked up on your hands before they get into your system. At the very least, make washing your hands thoroughly the first thing you do before and after every session.
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