10 commandments of injury prevention
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Injury prevention strategies are big business in professional sports. This is due to the cost in terms of treatment and playing time lost when an injury occurs.
But it's not just professional athletes who should be taking injury prevention seriously. Even for an amateur athlete or "just for fun" athlete, many types of injury can be prevented, which in turn prevents time off work and costly treatment sessions.
With this in mind, here are the top 10 commandments for preventing sports and exercise injuries:
1. Thou shalt warm-up thoroughly.
The topic of warm-ups has been done to death, but the message is still not getting through to some sports participants. A good warm-up is vital to preventing acute injuries to muscles, such as hamstring and groin strains and also joints — like the ankle and knee.
Warming up not only increases the warmth and flexibility of muscle and other soft tissues, but also helps improve neuromuscular control — basically our control over our muscles and joints. This type of control can help reduce and correct excessive movements that may lead to injuries — for example rolling the ankle over and tearing the lateral ligaments. A good warm-up should be gradual, thorough and sport-specific.
2. Thou shalt cool down effectively.
A good cool-down is even more regularly overlooked. This flawed attitude sees people passing up a jog and static stretches for more time in the sports bar believing they have survived another match unscathed.
But a good cool-down helps to prevent soreness and muscle tension in the following days, which could prevent injury in your next training session or game. Replenishing the system with fresh, oxygenated blood will also help with recovery and repair of any microtrauma sustained throughout exercise.
A good cool-down should slowly bring the body back to its resting state by decreasing in intensity and ending with static stretches.
3. Thou shalt practice and perfect one's technique.
Bad technique is a huge cause of injury — most frequently the overuse type of injury that develops gradually with repetitive faulty movement patterns and techniques. It can also sometimes lead to the more acute type of injury. Think of sports like skiing and gymnastics where poor technique can lead to a fall.
This is where the expertise of a coach comes in handy. They can observe you and notice problems with your technique, before teaching you how to correct these errors.
4. Thou shalt be fit for your sport.
A lack of appropriate fitness leads to fatigue, which leads to injury. As your body becomes tired, technique suffers and movement dysfunctions become more pronounced.
Fitness varies from one sport to another and so training should be appropriate for the sport in which you are competing. For example, you wouldn't train for soccer by running marathons. You need to simulate the type of cardiovascular fitness required for your sport (i.e., continuous or short intervals), as well as the movement patterns that are required.
5. Thou shalt use suitable and functioning equipment.
Equipment may include anything from footwear to rackets, sticks, clubs, balls, nets, hoops — the list is practically endless. Using equipment that is either broken or not designed for the purpose in which you are using it can lead to injury either to yourself or others.
Imagine worn-out sneakers leading to shin splints; wearing nongrip shoes for badminton; an ancient wooden hockey stick with a small crack in it — all are recipes for disaster.
6. Thou shalt obey the rules at all times.
The rules are there for a reason. They help us play a fair game and determine who wins and loses, and they are also there for the safety of the players. Rules like: "All hitters must wear helmets in baseball" and "Helmets and pads must be worn by all football players" are good examples.
7. Thou shalt develop the strength required for the sport.
Strength is a key component in injury prevention, and again it should be specific to the sport. Having strong muscles helps to control our movements to prevent movement dysfunctions as well as the uncontrolled motions that lead to muscle or ligament tears.
Running is a great example. Many runners think that running alone is enough to strengthen their legs for their activity, but really one or two weightlifting sessions a week to strengthen the glutes, core and legs should be included in training to ensure a well-rounded program.
8. Thou shalt keep the muscles flexible.
Muscle flexibility is another key area. Tight muscle groups can result in acute injuries like hamstring strains, as well as muscle imbalances which result in movement dysfunctions and eventual overuse injuries.
Stretching should be performed as part of a cool-down and warm-up but also on a daily basis to ensure good flexibility. A morning and evening stretching routine is highly recommended to help prepare the body for the day and then ease off any tensions that have developed throughout the day.
9. Thou shalt never play through nagging pain.
Never continue to play if you are in pain! You may think "I can get to the end" or "My team needs me to play," but continue to participate and you are taking a massive risk that will only make things worse in the long run.
If you stop when you feel the first signs of an injury and seek treatment, chances are you won't need much, if any, time out. But continue to play, and an acute injury may occur (think a twinge in the calf turning into a strain or even an Achilles rupture). In the case of overuse injuries, the tissue damage is only going to increase the more stress it is placed under.
10. Thou shalt take adequate time to recover.
Recovery time is when your body repairs itself and adapts to the demands placed on it during exercise, and it is important in both injury prevention and training development. Not allowing sufficient recovery time between training and competition means your body doesn't sufficiently repair, leaving yourself open to further muscle or soft tissue damage.
Try to allow at least one full rest day in between competitions and alternate a heavy training day with a light training day. Ensure you have a minimum of one full rest day a week for serious athletes, or two days a week for beginners and "just for fun" athletes.
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