Principles of injury prevention for sportspeople
For professional and amateur athletes alike, injuries are often part and parcel of participating in your chosen sport. Nothing is more frustrating than being forced into time away from training or competition due to a preventable injury.
The best way to minimise time spent on the sidelines with an injury is to employ specific injury prevention strategies for our chosen athletic pursuit. For physiotherapists dealing with sporting injuries, the biggest mistakes that we see are often when athletes don’t put enough time into understanding their own bodies, and the physical requirements of their chosen sport. Most often, injuries happen because athletes are under-prepared, over-fatigued, have not adapted their bodies to meet the demands of their sport, or have specific anatomical or bio-mechanical weaknesses that have not been identified and addressed. Take a read of these below:
Although all sports differ in the physical strain they place in the body, there are a number of general principles that should guide any basic injury prevention program.
1. Know your own body – get to understand the way that your body works, where weaknesses exist, and how this related to your chosen sport. Identify the areas where you are regularly tight or sore, and be aware of any new areas of pain. Know your injury history intimately, including any long term consequences.
2. Know your sport – in Australia, we’re fortunate to have the opportunity to enjoy running, swimming, contact sports, racquet sports and everything in between. Remember, all of these sports have different requirements on your body beyond basic fitness, and you should take this into account when designing an injury prevention program. Many injuries occur due to poor technique, or a lack of sports specific fitness. If you aren’t sure how to get fit for your chosen sport, consult a professional who can guide your program.
3. Address your weaknesses – even elite athletes have weaknesses that need to be rectified in order to perform injury-free and at their peak. Professional athletes now lead the way in seeking qualified help to improve on their physical deficiencies, and address potential causes of injury. Targeted conditioning or strengthening programs go a long way to minimizing injury risk and maintaining peak performance.
4. Core strength and stability – the core is an often misunderstood aspect of injury prevention that is vital to almost any sport. Core stability is more than just abdominal strength or having a ‘six-pack’, and involves many muscle groups around the trunk and pelvis that support and guide our movements. Core strength should be a component of all injury prevention programs, and should be specific to your body and your sport.
5. Warm up - In general, a warm up should build from gentle range of motion exercises, through to specific functional movements that replicate your sporting action. An effective warm up will last 15-20 minutes. Aim for approximately 70-80% intensity at the end of the warm-up.
6. Recover well - Very few studies conclusively show that any recovery technique provides benefits to performance longer than 3 days. However, at a minimum you should make sure that after exercise you get plenty of rest, rehydrate and eat well, stretch major muscle groups and employ RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to any suspected injuries. This will give you the best chance of training at your peak each and every session.
7. Consult your physiotherapist – your physio is an expert in assessing the way your body moves, and the physical and biomechanical requirement of your sport. Using this information, a physiotherapist can design an individualized program to not only prevent injuries but maximise your sporting performance. Remember, prevention is always better than cure!
Michael Chamberland – Physiotherapist and Director, Back In Motion Patterson Lakes