Sports are a wonderful way to get out of the house, keep fit and develop social connections. So, the last thing you want is to sustain an injury that keeps you out of the game.
Wrapping yourself up in cotton wool or bubble wrap would prevent most sports injuries. But it would also expose you to ridicule and hamper your performance. So, here are 7 better ideas.
1. Warm-up and cool down
However eager you are to race onto the pitch, always, always, always warm up first. And, when you’ve finished playing, cool down.
Warming up and cooling down well involves doing your activity at a slower pace or lesser intensity. The goal is to warm up your cardiovascular system, raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to your muscles.
Cooling down acts in reverse. It allows your body to slow down, gradually returning to its normal heart rate and blood pressure.
So, allow time before and after your main exercise to warm up and cool down. Your body will thank you – and it may help your mind to transition into and out of the exercise zone too.
2. Focus on proprioception exercises
Proprioception is a fancy word that physiotherapists like because it neatly expresses something important: the ability to sense and freely move your body and limbs in your external environment. Proprioception means knowing where your body is, moving it well and adapting quickly to sudden changes in your environment.
Improving your proprioception can improve your sports performance by helping you develop better:
- Reaction time.
Proprioception exercises also help to prevent injury by improving your spatial awareness and balance. Improving proprioception in your muscles, tendons and joints can help to prevent common injuries like ankle sprains. Basketball players who took part in a proprioceptive training program experienced an 81% decrease in ankle sprains and a 77% decrease in lower back pain.
There are many different proprioception exercises but most involve standing on one leg. Here are 10 proprioception exercises you could try.
3. Get the right gear
There are (usually) good reasons for sports-specific gear. All those mouthguards, jock straps and helmets serve an important purpose in protecting your body and reducing the risk of injury. Don’t skimp on protective clothing.
Then there’s your footwear. Invest in the right sports shoes, especially if you’re prone to plantar fasciitis or other biomechanical issues. You should also talk to a podiatrist about whether orthotics would help you.
Now you’ve got the right shoes, wear ‘em! And get a fresh pair before they wear out (which is probably sooner than you think).
4. Build strength
A meta-analysis of 25 randomised controlled trials relating to sports injury prevention found that strength training cut the risk of injury by about 70%.
Strength training builds muscle mass, strength and endurance. It can be done at home or in the gym using free weights, resistance bands or your body weight.
As well as making you stronger and leaner, strength training improves the mobility and range of motion of your muscles, ligaments and tendons. That provides better support to your hips, knees and ankles, for example.
Strength training can also protect your lower back and build up key muscles such as your core, hamstrings and glutes.
5. Use proper technique
This point is, perhaps surprisingly, quite controversial! On the one hand it’s argued that injuries stem from poor technique such as gripping the tennis racket or golf club too hard, overstriding when running or holding the head too high when swimming freestyle.
If you love a sport, you tend to do it often. That means you’re repeating those ‘technique errors’ several times a week, over and over and over each session. You’re overloading some muscles and tendons and underworking others and it’s this that leads to injury. We can call this point of view the ‘movement quality’ approach and it’s the most prevalent view across healthcare.
This argument stands in contrast to the ‘movement preparation’ approach, which says the only ‘bad movement’ is the one you’re not prepared to tolerate. Clearly, there are some caveats to this ‘movement preparation’ understanding that should be made explicit. First, there is a limit to human adaptability in both speed and extent. We cannot adapt to everything, and we cannot adapt as fast as we would like! Second, these view are best seen as existing on a continuum, rather than as dichotomous. Third, we are talking here about pain and injury, not performance; there may well be very specific techniques needed to bring about high level performance.
I’m inclined towards this second view for several reasons. First, it has a more optimistic view of human adaptability and recognises people can respond positively to the stressors applied to them. Two, it says stress isn’t an inherently bad thing; it simply catalyses adaptation. Three, it accommodates the potential involvement of other stressors, namely psychosocial factors (eg., fear, stress, anxiety etc.) and lifestyle factors (eg., poor sleep, diet etc.), rather than merely physical stressors.
Wherever you land in this debate, it’s often important to see a coach who understands the unique demands of the sport. Such a person can give you both advice for increased performance and appropriately paced exposure to ensure you are adapting to the workload or stressors applied to your system.
Some people need a good kick up the backside to get them to do any exercise. Others need holding back to ensure they build in enough time for their body to rest and recover between training.
Rest is vital. It helps to:
- Relieve muscle pain and soreness by removing excess lactate
- Repair microscopic tears in muscle tissue
- Replenish glycogen, a form of energy stored in muscles, which prepares your muscles for the next workout
- Prevent injuries caused by overexercising
- Refresh your mind – meaning you make better decisions when playing your next game, which also helps to reduce injury risks.
7. Get yourself a great physiotherapist
Your physiotherapist helps you improve your overall conditioning and reduce your risk of injury (or repeat injury).
Your physio can help you to:
- Strengthen areas of weakness
- Correct biomechanics
- Improve balance
- Build sports-specific skills.
Having a physio also means you know where to turn at the first sign of injury. Many people ignore the early indications of an injury and keep going until a more serious problem develops. If you’re noticing niggles and pains, it’s worth seeing your physiotherapist sooner rather than later.
Sports injury prevention at Sycamore Health
At Sycamore Health, we love helping people stay in great shape. We want you to be strong and fit and able to engage in the sport you love.
So, to borrow from wedding vows, we’ll work with you in sickness and in health.
If you’re in good shape, we’ll create a program of exercises to help you reduce the risk of sustaining a sports injury. If you’ve already sustained an injury, we’ll help you rebuild your body, reduce the risk of repeating the injury and return to your sport at the right time.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances.