Some of you are taking on a new sport to get in shape (a new year pledge?) while others are already participating at a competitive level. Alternatively, you may be one of the hoards of parents who are preparing their kids for the school team or local community league. Whichever the case, you have more than optimal performance on the mind, as the fear of injury hangs on your periphery.
For all of the tremendous physical, mental, and social benefits of sports, injury is indeed a concern. Recent data from Stats Canada shows that 66% of injuries among adolescents were linked to sports, while adults can also chalk up a significant portion of their ailments to antics on the court, field, or ice, sharing the 47% occurrence with only work related events.
As the premier sports rehabilitation center for the Burnaby and Coquitlam area, we know first hand how frustrating it can be to sustain an injury and be out of action for weeks, if not months. And while we’re here to make sure patients get back out there to do what they love (or even how they earn a living) we’d prefer to keep you from being hurt in the first place. Since we can’t be on that court, field, or ice along with you, we thought we’d share some common (but often ignored) tips to keeping an injury at bay every time you play.
5 Common But Effective Tips to Preventing Sports Injury
1. Know the Risk (by Sport)
One of the best ways to be prepared is to know the risk before you participate. No sport is created equal, as some come with greater odds of injury, and it’s not always the ones you think. In being more conscious of the risk, you will hopefully exercise more caution and take the necessary steps to prevent occurrence. Below is an ordered ranking of the top five sports that commonly result in trauma to muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments:
- Basketball – contrary to popular belief, basketball brings proportionately more people to the ER than any other sport. The National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) cites trauma to the ankle/foot, hip/thigh/leg, knee, and forearm/wrist/hand to be the leading injuries.
- Bicycling – including knee, lower back, neck, and achilles tendonitis.
- Football – including knee, especially those to the anterior or posterior cruciate ligament(ACL/PCL) and to the menisci.
- Soccer – including knee, especially cartilage tears and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprains.
- Baseball – including rotator cuff tears, ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), and knee injuries.
Now we know what you’re thinking – where is hockey? While the list above will look different by geography, hockey is responsible for approximately half of sports related head injuries in Canada, and not so much with respect to trauma to muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments.
To be fair, studies in Canada vary on the matter, with important research reporting that cycling, basketball and soccer accounted for the greatest number of reported injuries. Another found that cycling had the highest number of injuries of any sport in this country. By referencing the initial findings by the U.S. Consumer Produce Safety Commission (the ranking above), we look to a country with similar interests in sports, while gaining access to a much larger population which allows us to draw better conclusions about the overall proportional risk by sport.
If you or a loved one is participating in one or more of the top five, proceed with preventative measures in mind.
2. Warm Up
OK, now we can get into the meat and potatoes with some definitive statements. Simply put, one of the most effective ways to avoid an injury in sports is with a proper warm up.
A few jumping jacks and a knee to the chest for 30-seconds doesn’t cut it, especially as we advance in age. A proper warm-up lasts at least 5-10 minutes, but can certainly go longer if you have the time. Each session should include gentle stretching, and putting your muscles through motions that mirror the activity to follow. A light jog is also a great addition to any routine. It is important to begin your warm-up slowly, and gradually build up to a more brisk and energetic pace.
From this point forward, allow yourself that extra 5-10 minutes to warm up before your appointment on the court, arena, track, or field or you may be facing much more time in the waiting room of your local ER.
3. Wear Appropriate Protective Gear
They make protective gear by sport for a reason, and each piece of equipment has been designed to prevent injury to a part of the body that is vulnerable during an activity. While most people know to suit up before playing ice hockey (it’s part of the fun), they often fail to do so for other common sports. How often do you see people playing a pickup game of soccer while wearing shin guards?
This preventive measure is especially important when the sport involves physical contact with others, or a structure (wall, ramp, etc.) for that matter. However, it’s not just about pads, helmets, and face masks. It is also essential to wear proper footwear. The right footwear can offer support to the foot, ankle and lower extremities, while helping to prevent injury in the process, which is why many are turning to custom orthotics for sports.
From here on in, suit up before you play. While knee pads may not go with that new Lululemon outfit, they are certainly preferred over a plaster cast, boot, or brace.
4. Cool Down
So you’ve warmed up sufficiently, worn the appropriate protective gear, and enjoyed a successful game, set, round, match, or session. Are you in the clear? Definitely not.
Sports injuries often occur because of the same (or other) strenuous activity that took place the day or even week before. When you enter the next game/activity with sore, tense, or tight muscles you greatly increase the risk of a muscle tear or other form of trauma. To reduce the risk, make sure that you properly cool down after each and every bout.
Upon conclusion, dedicate at least 5-10 minutes to gentle stretching to lengthen the muscles, and include another form of exercise, such as walking, which will help return your heart rate to its normal pace. A proper cool-down will allow your body to remove muscle waste products and replace them with oxygen and nutrients. This will help stave off post-activity muscle stiffness and allow your muscles to recover.
No matter how heated the competition was, don’t go home until you’ve cooled down.
5. Make Physiotherapy a Part of Your Sports Training Regime
Awhile back we made a clear case for the average household to make physiotherapy a part of their normal health and wellness plan, in the same manner that one does with regular visits to the doctor and dentist.
When that household includes athletes, the same not only makes sense, it becomes more essential than you could ever imagine.
By working with a physiotherapist, you will learn proper technique as it applies to your current body function. A sports coach teaches everyone the same form, whereas a physiotherapist will account for any underlying ailments you have, and will ensure that you are entering an activity/game with proper range of motion, making adjustments where needed until you are operating at an optimal level.
When you learn and practice the correct technique associated with your chosen sport, while recognizing your physical limitations, you can greatly reduce the risk of injury to muscles, tendons, tissues, ligaments, and bones.
Physiotherapy visits serve as the perfect complement to your sports training protocol, one that will not only help improve your performance, but will help keep you ailment free too.
If you live Burnaby, Coquitlam, or anywhere in Greater Vancouver, we welcome you to contact our clinic today to learn more about what we will do mitigate the risk of sports injury for you or your student athlete.