8 ways to prevent sports injuries
Warm up, cross-train and take a rest day, advises sports and exercise medicine expert Dr Martin Rochford
Sports injuries generally occur for two different reasons: trauma and overuse. And while traumatic sports injuries are usually obvious, dramatic scenes, like when we see a player fall down clutching their knee, overuse injuries are actually more common.
Overuse injuries often occur when the body is pushed past its current physical limits or level of conditioning - but poor technique and training errors, such as running excessive distances or performing inadequate warm-ups, frequently contribute.
Sports injury prevention starts with knowing where (and when) injuries are most likely to happen. The most common sports injuries that occur include:
• Concussions: This may be the most concerning of injuries. They are very common in rugby especially. People who have sustained a head injury should be watched closely and monitored for complications.
• Repetitive use or overuse injuries: these injuries can include things such as stress fractures and tennis elbow. These injuries can result in chronic pain if they are not treated effectively at the onset. • Strains and sprains: These may be the most common injuries among children and can happen during organised sports activities as well as general play such as cycling or running around. They can happen from an inconvenient injury such as twisting the ankle or due to overuse. • Broken bones: So many kids don't make it past childhood without experiencing a broken bone. Generally this type of injury can be set easily with a cast and will heal on its own with rest. More serious broken bones may require surgery or other forms of treatment. Again, the injury needs to be monitored so any pain does not become chronic. • Tendonitis: This inflammation of the tendon, often in the ankle or heel, can cause pain and difficulty with range of motion. It is common in sports when running is a focus such as in athletics or soccer. This generally heals with treatment as well but can become chronic. • Arthritis: Some people experience a premature wearing away of the protective cartilage in the joints, which can cause symptoms of arthritis.
Each injury will require different attention or treatment so it is recommended that sports people not put off medical attention even for sports injuries that appear minor at the beginning. Bumps and bruises are normal but tendonitis, concussions, and other injuries need to be taken seriously.
To help keep you or your young athlete from experiencing a sports-related injury, here are some useful prevention tips:
1 Set realistic goals
I am a strong advocate for setting goals and working hard to achieve them, but it is crucial that our goals are realistic, achievable and sustainable. Whether your goal is to swim more laps, lift a certain amount of weight or run a specific distance, set an obtainable goal and gradually work to improve.
2 Prevent injuries before they occur
The best way to avoid sports injuries is to take precautions and prevent injuries from occurring. Any sort of sports activity or workout should start with a warm-up of stretches and light exercises. This increases blood flow and flexibility.
While there have recently been some studies questioning the necessity of warming up prior to physical activity, common sense still dictates initiating some movement in your body before diving into the game. Everyone from professional athletes to Olympians moves their bodies before they begin their sport. It's hard to imagine a rugby international kicking a ball fresh out of bed in the morning. Take your cue from the professionals and prepare your body with a little stretching, some jumping jacks, or a quick jog.
3 Don't push yourself too hard, too fast
In the heat of the moment, it is possible to push yourself too hard, too fast. If you lead a sedentary life for 363 days of the year and then participate in a full-contact weekend of soccer with your friends, chances are that you will come away with an injury. Although it can be difficult to hold back when you are having fun (and feeling good in the moment), try to work up to more rigorous sports instead of jumping right in. Work on building strength and stamina with strength training and cardiovascular exercises before you put in 110pc.
4 Wear the right equipment
Having the proper equipment, such as footwear, helmets and mouthguards is also important to avoiding sports injuries. Shoes that have adequate support and fit properly are a must, as is having the correct shoes for each activity. This can aid in prevention of several conditions, such as heel spurs, sprained ankles, and shin splints.
Helmets and mouthguards are also vital in preventing serious and long-term injury. For example, hurling is a fantastic sport but its fast pace can make it extremely dangerous for players not wearing protective headgear. While training or playing competitively, hurlers playing without a helmet are in danger of suffering head trauma, concussion as well as fractures or injuries to the face.
5 Avoid overuse injuries
Many sports injuries are a direct result of performing the same action over and over again. Sports injury prevention focuses on reducing these repetitive movements, when possible. While this repetition builds up skill and muscle memory, it also places strain on the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the area being used.
Mix it up with cross-training. Cross-training exercises different parts of the body to give the most-used areas some much-needed rest, or it distributes the burden of motion over the whole body instead of just one area.
If you are a tennis player, giving your upper body a decent break with running is a great way to minimize the possibility of injury due to overuse.
6 Allow your body time to heal
To make sure a sports injury doesn't become chronic, patients should allow adequate time for the injury to heal. Once a sports injury has healed, activity should be resumed gradually. If pain is experienced again, it means that the injury isn't healed yet and more rest is required. The same guidelines for avoiding a sports injury, such as warming up before activity, avoiding overexertion, and obtaining proper sports equipment, can aid in avoiding recurring or chronic sports injuries.
7 Take days off each week
Taking time off is one of the most critical parts of sports injury prevention, especially for growing kids. Make sure your children aren't training or participating in sports every day of the week. They need days off to rest their growing bones and muscles. For adults, its not recommended to train hard each day too - muscles need a rest to recover.
8 Get a complete health and nutrition picture
Yes, activity is great but you should also make sure that you are eating a healthy and balanced diet. The right nutrients will help you keep up the right energy and heal when you are injured. It's sports injury prevention that can happen on and off the field.
If you do find yourself with a sports injury, it's important to first evaluate whether or not you need to see your doctor. If there is any doubt in your mind, its best to come into your local urgent care clinic. Any injury accompanied by fever or symptoms that get worse over time instead of improving should be evaluated by a professional. Even if the sports injury takes time to heal, a doctor can set your mind at rest.
• Dr Martin Rochford is a sports medicine expert with My Medical Urgent Care Clinic in Cherrywood, Co Dublin (firstname.lastname@example.org) and a consultant in emergency medicine
Health & Living