Providence athletic trainer Samantha Drewes wraps an ankle of a Crater High School wrestler Wednesday. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Get fit without getting hurt

Many people who started January with a resolution to get in shape are now facing common exercise aches and pains, from shin splints to plantar fasciitis.

Providence Sports Medicine athletic trainers say there are steps people can take to stay on track.

Dialing back on vigorous exercise and adopting a more gradual approach can help.

"I think the big thing when you start a New Year's resolution is to start small," says Samantha Drews, a Providence athletic trainer who works with Crater High School athletes. "Set an attainable goal, maybe each week, so you can actually reach that big goal. Maybe it's to lose weight. Maybe it's to be more active. The big, important thing is that by setting smaller goals, you can avoid overuse injuries to your feet, your hips, your knees."

Getting in shape doesn't require training for a marathon.

Adding in small increments of exercise to your day can help you avoid shin splints, which cause pain in the lower legs, and plantar fasciitis, inflammation and pain in the plantar fascia ligament that stretches along the bottom of the foot.

"I think everyone can achieve 25 to 35 minutes of exercise a day," Drews says. "You don't have to go out and run the entire time."

She suggested taking the stairs where possible and walking during lunch breaks as ways to increase time spent exercising. Walking is an ideal exercise because it involves less impact than running.

Drews recommends taking a look at your shoes. If you kicked off your New Year's resolution fitness plan with 3-year-old tennis shoes, for example, you need to upgrade to athletic shoes that will provide enough cushion and support.

Shin splits often strike people who have begun running or who increase their mileage.

Running on softer surfaces such as grass or dirt trails can help, along with icing the legs after exercise, Drews says.

People with knee pain may also benefit from lower-impact exercise, including biking and elliptical-machine training, she says.

Plantar fasciitis, which usually involves pain in the heel and sometimes the arch of the foot, can be eased by rolling a tennis ball with the foot. Stretching the bottom of the foot also helps, Drews says.

If the pain persists or becomes chronic, people need to visit a physical therapist or other health care provider, she says.

Upper-body injuries, especially shoulder injuries, can sometimes be severe. They often strike weekend warriors who are less active during the week and then try to keep up with their kids playing basketball or doing other vigorous exercise, Drews says.

Prevention by strengthening and stretching the upper body is key, she says.

Proper nutrition plays an important role in fitness, according to Providence athletic trainer Emily Celner, who works with North Medford High School athletes.

No amount of exercise can make up for a bad diet, she says.

Celner recommends staying away from diet plans that emphasize extreme calorie restriction. They aren't sustainable and won't work in the long run.

Instead, think about eating food that helps you feel healthy, strong and energetic, she urges.

"You need to put good things in your body," Celner says.

Make a goal to eat three vegetables per day, for example, she says.

Most people are aware of the importance of protein and know that carbohydrates are a good source of energy. Celner recommends including healthy fats in your diet, such as from nuts, seeds and avocados.

With more drink options than ever, she says people should take it easy on wine, cocktails, sugar-laden espresso drinks and other beverages that don't contribute to their health.

"They always say, 'Don't drink your calories,' " she says.

Rather than depriving yourself and quitting cold turkey, Celner advises scaling back and making substitutions.

She admits caramel macchiato espresso drinks are her weakness.

Caramel macchiato is made with milk, espresso, vanilla syrup and caramel sauce. If made with 2 percent milk, a 16-ounce serving packs 33 grams of sugar, according to nutrition information available at

That equates to 8 teaspoons of sugar. In comparison, a can of Pepsi has 41 grams of sugar, which equals about 10 teaspoons.

Switching to almond milk reduces the sugar to 23 grams in a caramel macchiato, although it also cuts back on the protein, according to Starbucks.

Celner says she reduces the sugar in her caramel macchiato by requesting almond milk and sugar-free syrup.

One way to shop healthier is to stick to the outer aisles of the grocery store, she says.

Processed foods are generally in the inner aisles, while produce and other healthier options are on the perimeter, Celner says.

Finding snacks that don't contain processed carbohydrates and sugar can be a challenge for many. Celner says dark chocolate with a high cocoa content generally has less sugar. Pair dark chocolate with a handful of almonds for a healthful snack.

Fresh fruit such as an apple or blueberries contains natural sugars, fiber and nutrients, making them ideal snacks, she says.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or Follow her at

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