Sports Injuries

How to Prevent Sports Injuries?

Like most professional athletes, you want to decrease or eliminate your chances of getting injured whilst participating in sport or at the gym. Failure to warm-up and cool down properly, the incorrect use of equipment, poor technique and excess bodyweight- are five very common causes of sports injuries. Sport injuries and overuse injuries often occur in the muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints, throughout the whole body. The 10 most common types of sports injuries are (1):

  1. Ankle sprains
  2. Groin strain
  3. Hamstring strain
  4. Shin splints
  5. Ligaments injuries in the knee
  6. Cartilage injuries in the knee
  7. Tennis elbow
  8. Shoulder injuries
  9. Lower back injuries
  10. Wrist injuries

From the list above, you can see that there a high number of muscle strains, along with wear and tear on the joints and ligaments. ‘Could any of these overuse injuries be prevented?’ Well, research has indicated that by following the right preventative measures, we could reduce injury rate by 25% (4). The five preventative measures that we are going to discuss are:

  1. Performing adequate warm up
  2. Performing the right technique
  3. Knowing your limitations
  4. Reducing bodyweight
  5. Performing an adequate cool down

1. Warm Up

The warm up is the most important method of reducing your chances of injury. An effective warm up should last between 5-10 minutes; involve a pulse raising activity and then followed by some dynamic stretches. The first phase is the pulse raiser which should last for about 5 minutes with light/moderate intensity, and this phase has the following benefits:

  1. It prepares the body and mind for the activity.
  2. It increases the body’s core temperature.
  3. The increase in muscle temperature helps with making the muscles loose and supple ready for the second phase.
  4. Increases heart rate and respiratory rate, which delivers blood/oxygen to the working muscles.
Warm Up Exercises Cardio Timing (secs) Tempo
Jog on the Spot 60 Medium
Jumping Jacks 30 Medium
Butt Kicks 30 Medium
Arm Circles and Swings 30 Medium
Cross Body Toe Touches 30 Medium
Hill Climbers 30 Medium
High Knees 30 Medium
Pogo Jumps 30 Medium
Side Lunges with Windmill Arms 30 Medium

The Second Phase of the Warm up

The second stage is the dynamic stretching phase; this is a very important element to the warm up as it helps to lengthen both the muscles and tendons; which in turn allows a greater range of motion. This is essential in the prevention of muscle and tendon injuries.

The raise in muscle temperature in the first phase is important for increasing the muscle’s stretch potential; as the heat generated helps the muscle to stretch further.

Warm Up Exercises Timing (Secs) Tempo
Lunges with a Twist 20 Medium
Side Lunges Touching Heel 20 Medium
Leg Swings x 2 2 x 15 Medium
Leg Swings Side to Side x 2 2 x 15 Medium
Hip Stretch with a Twist 20 Medium
High Kicks 20 Medium
Knee to Chest 20 Slow
Downward Dog 20 Slow

2. The Right Technique and Advice

Many activities involve a technique that can be used to improve your form and minimise the risk of injuries. By practicing good technique you can reduce the risk of injuries to your muscles, joints, tendons and ligament. The body adapts and becomes used to performing these unique movements. Engaging the right muscles at the right time, keeping the body aligned, and the posture in the correct position during each technique/exercise, will also reduce the risk of overuse injuries. For example engaging the core muscles can protect the lower back and keep the pelvis aligned. This keeps the hips, knees and ankles aligned and there is less pressure on the ligaments and tendons of these joints.

If you are training and you don’t know if your technique is right then ask, don’t be afraid to ask the local PT at the gym or the club level coach. There is a vast amount of information on the internet to help you, a ‘word of caution’ as some of the advice handed out is good, bad and ugly!

Again, if you use bad advice from a poor internet source, this could be a recipe for disaster and further increase your chances of being injured. In other words, tread with caution, as the internet has given rise to an ‘expert’ fitness culture. Often the so called ‘experts’ handing out the advice aren’t qualified and lack the underlying knowledge to be doing so. Therefore, the ‘Bro-science’ advice is often wrong and this can lead to injuries!

3. Know your Limitations

Know your ‘limitations’ is very important! Being able to use the equipment safely and effectively, are others factors that can play major roles in preventing overuse and sporting injuries. Using weights in the wrong way is a classic way of getting injured. Many individuals try to run before they can walk, and pump weight that is far too heavy for them. Ego takes over and lifting ‘form’ goes out of the window. Poor lifting form, body mechanics, compounded by very heavy weight can cause major damage to the whole body. Between 1990 and 2007, over 970,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for weight training-related injuries (2).

If you are overweight, have poor posture control and using poor form (as many newbies in the gym have and do), then you will probably be spending time out of the gym because of injury. This will put you back to square one in terms of your fitness goals. Therefore, know your limits and be kind to your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. The best approach is to begin slowly and steadily to avoid pulling and straining the muscles; that you probably haven’t used in a long time.

It is very important that you build up your stamina and strength gradually, to avoid injuries and a long lay-off the gym. As you get fitter your body will adapt and you will be able to train harder, at higher intensities for longer periods of time. You only have one body, look after it and it will look after you!

4. Lose Weight

The combination of a sedentary workday and poor eating habits can lead to obesity, and according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2010 the prevalence of obesity amongst US men was 35% and 37% for US women. Three studies in the Lancet journal confirmed that obesity has doubled in the last 30 years and 343 million men and 458 million women were overweight/obese worldwide (5).

Obesity increases the risks of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, gall bladder disease, respiratory problems, colon cancer and cardiovascular disease. In addition, extra bodyweight does place an additional load on the muscles and joints within the body. The body is not designed to take these additional loads and this is when overuse injuries occur. Quick and sustainable methods of losing weight are introducing the Ketogenic diet combined with the Tabata HIIT into your daily regime. High protein and healthy fat diets strip fat quickly, they are easy to use because you are limiting your carbs. Protein/fats ensure that you are never hungry and will give you adequate energy to blast through your day!

5. Cool Down Stretching Routine

Static stretching is a very safe and effective form of stretching; which is ideal for the cool down phase (3). There is a limited risk of injury when performed correctly and it is very beneficial for flexibility. The stretching routine should last for 6 minutes and should include all of the major muscle groups.

Static stretching is performed by placing the body in a position whereby the muscle and tendons can be stretched under tension. Both the opposing muscle groups and the muscles to be stretched are relaxed; the body then moves to increase the tension of the muscles. At this point the muscles are held and lengthened. The stretch should be held for about 20-30 seconds for maximum benefit; remember to stretch gently/slowly, and stretch only to the point of tension.

Improving your flexibility and balance will reduce your risk of injuries. For example; improving your hip flexibility, makes functional task such as walking more economical and energy effective. This means that you will have an improved walking technique, with less pressure on the lower body joints, better alignment of the muscles and joints, and a lower risk of injuries- when walking for prolonged periods of time (3). Hip flexibility also helps with improving posture and again by keep your back in its natural S shape will reduce the risk of lower back and joint injuries (3).

Warm Up Exercises Timing Tempo
Static Calf Stretch 2x 30 seconds Slow
Static Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch 2x 15 seconds Slow
Static Standing Adductor Stretch 2x 15 seconds Slow
Static Hamstring Stretch 2x 30 seconds Slow
Static Standing Quadriceps Stretch 2x 30 seconds Slow
Static Standing Deltoid Stretch 2x 30 seconds Slow
Static Standing Tricep Stretch 2x 30 seconds Slow

References

  1. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7809556
  2. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20139328
  3. Lee M, Kim M, Bascola M, Kalck K, Bendis K, Zhu W. (2005). Proceedings of the Walking for Health: Measurement and Research Issues and Challenges. Urbana-Champaign, IL.
  4. Wilmore. J.H, Costill D,J. (2009). Physiology of Sport and Exercise. Human Kinetics. Champagne.
  5. Cynthia L. Ogden, Ph.D.; Margaret D. Carroll, M.S.P.H.; Brian K. Kit, M.D., M.P.H.; and Katherine M. Flegal, Ph.D (2009–2010). Prevalence of Obesity in the United States.