Feb 18, 2009
Participation in athletic activities of all kinds, at all ages, is at an all time high. Accordingly, sports injuries are also on the rise. However, many injuries can be avoided. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, up to 50 percent of all athletic injuries can be avoided. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases conservatively estimates that athletic injury rates could be reduced by 25 percent if all athletes followed essential safety, conditioning and preventive strategies. The following 10 tips are meant as a guide to the pursuit of that goal.
1. Consult your physician before starting any exercise or sports program. A proper medical evaluation can spot potential problems and correct weaknesses that may be worsened by starting a sports program. Previous injuries can result in chronic problems if they have not been properly rehabilitated. Ideally, a pre-season physical should take place within 6 weeks of the start of the season.
2. Get in shape before starting a new activity or sport. Be in shape when you start, don’t expect your sport to get you in shape. Follow an off season conditioning program that is sport specific, that is, one that is designed for your sport. Most sports require a balance of strength, agility, flexibility, co-ordination and endurance. Off season training should address these areas as well as provide instruction to improve overall technique.
3. Build gradually. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Slowly increase the time and intensity of your work out routines. If running, don’t increase your mileage or overall time by more than 10 percent per week. In weight training, avoid increasing the resistance or repetitions too drastically too quickly. Overuse injuries occur when you increase your exercise intensity more quickly than your body can adapt to the change.
4. Wear proper protective gear. Helmets are essential for biking, skiing snowboarding, and rollerblading; as well as for team sports such as football, hockey, baseball, and lacrosse. Protective eyewear and mouth guards ale equally important to prevent injuries. In addition, make sure your equipment is correct for your sport. Running shoes are great for marathons, but don’t offer enough support for basketball, soccer or tennis. Needless to say, all equipment must be well fitting and in good condition. It is particularly important to check children’s’ equipment before the start of each season since their sizes can change so rapidly. Don’t forget, the field is part of your equipment too. Make sure it is in good shape and free of debris.
5. Warm up and stretch before you start. A good warm up should last 15 – 20 minutes. Start with an easy cardiovascular workout to raise your body temperature and heart rate, and finish with slow easy stretching. Stretch slowly and don’t bounce. Stretching lengthens muscles while it increases blood flow and muscle temperature. When you’re finished, your muscles are ready to perform and are less likely to be injured.
6. Use proper form. Sprained ligaments and strained muscles often result from poor technique. Good body mechanics will help to prevent a lower back injury while swinging a golf club, hockey stick, or baseball bat. Good form increases efficiency and prevents overuse injury. Training with a coach or sports trainer to learn and maintain good form can prevent bad habits and prevent chronic injuries in the future.
7. Hydrate. Even experienced athletes have been shown to drastically underestimate their fluid needs. Adequate fluid intake is essential for athletes and all sports participants before, during and after exercise. Ultimately the decision to use a sports drink or plain water depends on the duration and intensity of the exercise.
8. Don’t overdo it. The whole idea of no pain no gain is obsolete and went out in the 60’s. Learn to differentiate normal mild soreness, from serious pain and stiffness. Don’t train hard every day; avoid overuse injuries by alternating hard and easy days as well as hard and easy weeks. Don’t be trapped by the “weekend warrior” syndrome. Try to do a little exercise every day rather than cram too many activities into the weekend. Listen to your body and watch for signs of fatigue. When you’re feeling down, ease off.
9. Cross train when possible. Varying exercise routines and styles prevents boredom, burn out, and overuse injuries. Exercise routines should not only concentrate on strength, but should include elements of cardiovascular training as well as balance and coordination conditioning. Team practices should also be varied and contain different activity periods of varied intensity and purpose. Mixing routines and workouts allows for an increased number of muscles and positions to be used and again can prevent overuse injuries.
10. If injuries occur, don’t play when you’re injured. Although this list is meant to prevent many injuries, injuries my still occur. When this happens, don’t try to “play through” the pain. Rest and let the injury heal before returning to sport. Continuing to play can only make it worse and may lead to chronic problems. Taking a few days off, may prevent the loss of an entire season or career. Finally, remember RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation, the best treatment for an acute injury.
Good luck and play safe!