THESE ARE THE common bugbears that you may encounter when taking exercise. Aside from treating niggling ailments such as blisters and abrasions — which can be very painful at the time — do not try to be your own doctor. If you have injured yourself or are feeling unwell as a result of taking exercise, seek proper medical advice.


Blisters are the body’s defence mechanism against very high temperatures. The blisters that you get on your feet during exercise are the result of friction, and their purpose is to cushion that area against further injury. That’s fine, except they bloody hurt! Opinion is divided as to whether you should empty the fluid out of blisters or not. If they are small (smaller than your index finger’s nail, for example), it is probably best to cover them with a padded sticking-plaster and leave them. Larger than that and you should consider bursting them. The danger with this is infection — it is vital that you don’t introduce any germs into the blister when you are fiddling with it and you must be sure to sterilize the surface of the blister and the area around it, your hands and whatever you are going to burst the blister with (a pin is the best bet). This is done by liberally dousing them all with surgical spirit or an antiseptic liquid. When everything is thoroughly sterile, make two holes in the surface of the blister and allow all of the fluid to come out before, again, soaking the area in surgical spirit (which will sting mightily) and covering with sticking-plaster.

You can try to prevent blisters altogether through various means, which include taping blister-prone areas of your feet, smearing petroleum jelly on your feet and between your toes, and even soaking your socks in olive oil.

Black Toenails

Black toenails indicate bleeding and bruising beneath the nail and in extreme cases they can become horribly infected. There are two basic causes: allowing the toenails to grow too long, and exercising in poorly fitting shoes. Cutting your toenails is cheaper so try that first, but if it doesn’t work then you may have to buy a new pair of shoes.

Treat walking boots with dubbin, soap or neat’s-foot oil to soften the leather and wear them around your home and for short walks before you try any long distances in them.

Jogger’s Nipple

Jogger’s nipple is an excruciatingly painful condition caused by the chafing of running vests and shirts against the nipples. As with blisters, you can attempt to prevent this by putting petroleum jelly on the nipples or by taping over them (hairy-chested men beware!).

Groin Chafing

Chafing between the legs at the groin is often suffered by those who run with their legs fairly close together. As with jogger’s nipple, it can be excruciatingly painful although it isn’t particularly serious. The only preventive that I have found to work 100 per cent of the time is to smear copious quantities of petroleum jelly on the afflicted area.

Stress Injuries

People who take a lot of exercise can suffer from a number of different stress injuries, most of which require the same treatment — rest. Some of the most common include:

Shin Splints

Pain and soreness around the shins is known as ‘shin splints’. It can be caused by a number of factors, including inadequate warming-up, running on hard or uneven surfaces and running too fast. The problem will quickly disappear if correctly treated, but when ignored it can lead to stress fractures in the lower leg.

Runner’s Knee

This is characterized by pain around or under the knee and it is caused by improper tracking of the kneecap. A good preventive measure is to build up the strength of your quadriceps muscles by cycling, but otherwise you should avoid too much sprinting and running on hilly ground.

Achilles Tendonitis

Pain in the Achilles tendon (at the back of the heel) is extremely common among runners. It can be caused by pressure from ill-fitting shoes and by excessive stretching when improperly warmed up. A good preventive is to do frequent but gentle Achilles stretches.

Plantar Fascitis

This is a very painful inflammation of the connective tissue on the sole of the foot. It can be prevented by not running on hard surfaces and by performing frequent calf stretches.

A good treatment for easing the pain from all of these injuries is known by the acronym RICE — Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. You need a bag of ice, wrapped in a cloth or tea-towel, and a place where you can sit or lie comfortably for zo minutes with your injured part elevated above your heart. All you have to do is apply the ice, quite firmly, to the injured part while holding it above the level of the heart. The ice should be wrapped in a cloth to prevent ‘ice burns’ on the skin. This simple process eases inflammation dramatically and it can be further improved by taking aspirin or another mild painkiller.

Temperature Extremes

Heat Exhaustion

Exercising in really hot weather can be bad news — it is all too easy to move through dehydration into heat exhaustion, heat stroke and death. Any of these symptoms means trouble: dizziness, headache, disorientation, nausea, decrease in sweating, and cold, clammy skin. If you notice these symptoms in yourself, or in someone you are training with, stop exercising immediately, get into shade, drink water and pour it over yourself, and seek immediate medical attention. The symptoms are normally preceded by profuse sweating and a feeling of weakness and fatigue which should lead most sensible people to abandon exercise immediately.

In this case prevention is far better than cure, so bear a few things in mind. The most important is to avoid exercising in conditions where heat will be a problem. In the tropics, for example, don’t exercise during the middle of the day when the sun is hottest, use the early morning instead. Always ensure that you have plenty of (non-alcoholic) liquid to drink before, during and after any exercise you take in hot conditions, and always acclimatize slowly to heat. It is a matter of common sense — ‘A man’s gotta know his limitations’, as Clint Eastwood once said.


Hypothermia is a condition caused by a drop in the core temperature of the human body which leads to unconsciousness, cardiac and respiratory failure and death. While the condition is not likely to be a problem in most temperate climates (because it is unlikely to get cold enough to fell someone out on a 45-minute run), it is a very real danger if you are training out in the hills, or even just hiking.

Apart from low temperatures, factors which contribute to the onset of hypothermia include high winds (the wind chill factor), wetness and physical exhaustion. The symptoms are, at first, simple coldness and shivering but these then progress towards the following:

Eventually, as the condition worsens, the sufferer slides into coma and then dies. First aid for the early stages should include taking shelter, changing into warm, dry clothing and drinking plenty of hot fluids. But there is a requirement for urgent medical treatment at all stages of hypothermia and the further the sufferer is allowed to slide, the more critical this is.

First-Aid Kit

Whenever you undertake any activity that could involve injuring yourself, you should always carry a first-aid kit with you to tide yourself over until you can get professional help. If you are training or hiking in the hills, when help can be hours or even days away, this becomes doubly important and a first-aid kit is a vital component of your survival equipment.

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