One of the key components to prevent injury is flexibility. No matter how fit you may be, it's

important to remember that stretching before and after your sport is a great way to minimize

injuries. Some jogging, walking briskly or a few short sprints will allow muscles and tendons to

get ready for performance.

The first signals of injury are swelling and aching. However, lack of flexibility is not always the cause of foot, ankle, knee and lower back problems. Often it's the bones of the feet that will result in overuse or stress on the above structures. Some of the most common injuries in the early stage of training are shin splints.

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With shin splints, the painful area appears in the front and inside of the leg, again mainly due to over striding, muscle imbalance or structure of your feet -- as all the muscles via tendons insert into the feet. If left untreated it may go on to become a stress fracture.

Treatment includes rest, stretching, strengthening exercises, changing your running technique and rebalancing foot mechanics with the use of an orthotic insert into the shoe. Physical therapy can also be helpful. Do not try to run through this type of injury. Again, it can cause a stress fracture and take you out of your respective event for months.

Don't be fooled by a skin or nail injury, which left untreated, can cause an infection that will sideline you. Blisters are caused by skin friction. Try to let blisters break on their own, wash the area, apply an antiseptic and cover with a sterile bandage. Ingrown toenails are nails whose corners or sides dig painfully into the skin, often causing infections. They are frequently caused by shoe pressure from shoes that are too tight, an injury, or poor foot structure. If any condition becomes infected seek immediate medical attention.

Keep up with proper conditioning as well as flexibility and strengthening exercises so you can

prevent the possibility of injury and continue with your sport.

Dr. Robert F. Weiss, a Sport Podiatrist, was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 & 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials.