How can I avoid a sports injury?
The most common causes of sports injuries are failure to warm up properly before strenuous activity, incorrect use of safety equipment and insufficient safety precautions. Although it is impossible to prevent injury all the time due to the unpredictable nature of sports and physical activities, it is possible to take precautionary steps in order to decrease the likelihood of incurring an injury. Detailed below are the key steps to preventing a sports injury.
Warm Up Properly
The warm up is the most important and significant way to reduce the likelihood of injury and has been shown to reduce the risk of injuries by more than 50%. A sufficient warm up should last 5-10 minutes and should consist of both general and specific exercises to prepare the muscles for the strenuous activity to follow. It is important to start the warm up slowly and build up gradually to a brisk energetic pace with the aim of producing mild sweating without fatigue.
Warming up in this way allows an increased blood flow to reach the muscles, increasing the flexibility of the muscle fibres and significantly reduces the risk of pulling or straining a muscle. General exercises may include jogging, general stretching and resistance e exercises whereas specific exercises should include specific stretches and movements related to the activity about to be undertaken.
It is important to note that the effects of a warm up last approximately 30 minutes so not to warm up to early.
A few simple stretches can be found in one of our previous posts
Use the correct equipment
For some sports, protective equipment is important to prevent damage to participants. This is particularly important when the sport or activity involves physical contact with other players and participants. Protective equipment may include shin pads (used in football and hockey), boxing gloves, gum shields or protective head gear. All these pieces of equipment are designed to prevent injury to vulnerable parts of the body.
It is also important to wear correct footwear when participating in sports. The correct shoes can offer support to the foot and ankle, helping to prevent twisting and injury. An optimum shoe will be matched to the sportspersons specific mechanical features. Protective head gear is obviously extremely important, as helmets protect the skull and the brain from damage. This is vital in contact sports where the head may be knocked or when a sports person is moving at speed such as cycling or winter sports.
Take time to learn particular techniques associated with a sport as this can significantly reduce the risk of injury. By practicing good technique an individual can greatly reduce the risk of sports –related injuries to tendons, muscles and bones. This is also important in the gym where experts such as physiotherapists or gym instructors can demonstrate safe technique and safe use of equipment.
Don’t be a Weekend Warrior
It is important not to over- reach yourself when taking part in physical activities particularly when new. Listen to your body and know your physical limits. When beginning a new sport begin slowly and steadily to avoid pulling or straining muscles which your body may not be used to using or stretching. Try to spread your exercise out throughout the week rather than cramming everything into a short period. If you have not undertaken strenuous exercise for some time it is important to build up your stamina and strength slowly. Over a period of time you will notice strength and stamina improving and you will notice you will be able undertake physical activity for longer periods of time.
Water is vital to keep the body going, and this is especially true when you are active and exercising. Dehydration can significantly reduce mental and physical fitness increasing the likelihood of injury.
A good cool down is another good way of minimising the risk of injury. After a sporting activity spend 5-10 minutes undertaking an exercise to return the heart rate to a normal pace. The cool down allows the body to remove the muscles waste products and replace these with oxygen and nutrients. This helps prevent muscular stiffness and allows the muscles to recover steadily following physical activity. At this stage gentle stretches can be beneficial as this can prevent muscles becoming bulky as they increase in size.
Written by David Stromsoy (Physiotherapist)