How to Prevent Sports Injuries
In the United States alone, over 30 million kids and teens participate in sports annually. Of the 30 million participants, approximately 3.5 million individuals suffer from some form of injury from the sport in which they participate every year.
In addition, it is estimated that approximately 50% of those injuries were preventable, had the individual taken the proper precautions; either prior to a workout, practice, or actual game.
Further studies related to injuries associated with participation in sports shows that the rate of injury is lower in young to middle-aged adults. Regardless of the varying probabilities of specific sports related injury types, prevention of a sports injury is not only beneficial in the short term, but over the long run as we continue to age as well.
Although it is impossible to prevent all injuries associated with participating in a sport, there are several approaches and techniques that can be implemented to make the probability of incurring a sports-related injury much smaller.
Common Types of Injuries
The most common types of sports-related injuries include muscle, ligament and tendon strains and sprains, bone fractures, and bruising. About 6% of these types of injuries were due to participating in basketball; 9% from bicycle riding; 3% from baseball and softball; 5% from football; and the rest from other sports and activities including ice hockey, gymnastics, skating and skiing.
Methods to Help Prevent Injury
The following approaches and techniques can be used to help prevent a whole host of sports-related injuries. As previously mentioned in this article, it is estimated that 50% of all sports injuries are preventable when employing the proper precautions.
Physical Condition: It is important that all athletes be in the appropriate physical condition prior to participating in their particular sport.
In other words, an athlete should not rely solely on the participation in their sport as a means to get into the appropriate shape to effectively participate in their sport.
Hence, all athletes should participate in an off-season training routine that facilitates a fitness level suitable to participate in a particular sport.
It is always recommended that an athlete participate in an exercise routine that keeps their body in good shape, and thereafter continue with an appropriate fitness routine that supports the specific sport in which the individual is participating.
Know the Rules: Many of the rules associated with each type of sport are designed to keep athletes safe and to minimize the number of injuries. For instance, clipping, chop blocking and a slap to the helmet are illegal in order to minimize the number of injuries associated with participating in the sport of football. The better the understanding of how a specific sport is played and the more knowledgeable an individual is of the rules of the game, the less likely they will be to break the rules and endanger themselves and others.
Protective Equipment: Many sports require specific protective equipment in order to be played effectively and safely. For example, shoulder pads, a helmet and thigh pads are used when playing the sport of football.
It's important for each individual to determine if additional protective equipment is specifically required for them to safely play the sport. For instance, one individual may require knee and/or elbow support while other participants may not. It's also important that protective equipment be used at all times when participating in the sport, whether it is in a game, practice, or just for fun.
Warm Up: It is extremely important for anyone participating in a sport to properly warm up prior to actually playing. A typical warm-up should begin slowly with various stretches and physical activities that engage the primary and secondary muscles that will be used during the playing of the sport.
The intent of warming up prior to playing is to flood the muscles, ligaments, tendons and flexible joints with blood and oxygen. This should be accomplished without placing a high level of stress on any part of the body. By doing so, an individual will improve their flexibility and prepare their body for the workout/sports game, and decrease the likelihood of a physical injury.
Below are a few physical benefits associated with warming up prior to a workout/sporting event:
Warms up the muscles by increasing the movement of blood through the muscle tissue, thus making the muscles more supple and flexible.
Increases delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles by increasing blood flow.
Prepares the muscles for stretching.
Prepares the heart for an increase in activity.
Prepares, centers, and balances the mind for the upcoming workout/sports event.
Primes and stimulates the nerve-to-muscle pathways for the workout/sports event.
Take Breaks: When participating in a sport that requires strength and endurance, an athlete must allow their body and mind the appropriate time necessary to recover from their expenditure of energy. This recovery time is not only necessary for the body, but the mind as well.
When the body becomes physically exhausted, the mind will continue to push the body to perform, subsequently increasing the probability of an injury. Likewise, as many sporting events require a high level of extended mental concentration, the mind will begin to fatigue as well.
As such, mental focus, acuity and judgment will decrease. In this case, the mind may place the body in a vulnerable situation with an increased risk of injury.
The important item to remember is that when an athlete encounters a high level of fatigue (physical, mental or both), they should decrease their energy expenditure or take a short break altogether. By doing so, an athlete will allow their body and mind the necessary time to re-balance their oxygen and metabolic levels, and refocus their mind as well.
Cool Down: The intent of cooling down after a workout/sporting event is to gradually slow down the level of physical activity that the body is performing. Listed below are a few of the physical benefits associated with properly cooling down after a workout/sports event.
Allows the athlete's heart rate and breathing to slowly return to their normal levels.
Assists in avoiding fainting or dizziness which can result from blood pooling in the large muscles of the legs when vigorous activity is stopped suddenly.
Prepares the muscles for the next exercise session, whether it's later that day, the next day or in a few days.
Facilitates the removal of waste products from the muscles (e.g. lactic acid, which can build up during a strenuous workout/sports event)
Although there may be conflicting research when it comes to whether cooling down prevents post-exercise muscle soreness, also defined as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the additional benefits associated with cooling down necessitates that every athlete always take the time to cool down after a workout/sports event.
An effective cool-down routine would begin with the athlete performing a low intensity exercise for a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes, and thereafter performing a stretching routine for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
Avoid Pain: When an athlete experiences pain, it is often a warning sign that they are pushing their body too far, or that they have injured a specific part of their body. At times, discerning whether the pain is associated with the physical exertion of the activity itself or if the body has encountered an injury can be difficult. For this reason, it is important that every athlete become "in-tune" with their body. More specifically, it is important that an athlete know and understand the difference between good pain and bad pain.
Good pain will occur during virtually every workout and/or sporting event, and is associated with simply pushing the body physically (i.e. feeling a slight pain in your legs when walking up hill for an extended period of time). However, bad pain is often related to pain in the joints, vertebrae, or muscle tissue when the muscle tissue is being extended or contracted (which may signal a slight tear in the soft tissue).
As mentioned, it's not always easy to discern good pain from bad pain, especially after an extended session of physical activity. For this reason, it is important that an athlete learn how their body reacts to the physical activity being performed, and that they increase their understanding of their body and what the different types of pain indicate.
What To Do If You Become Injured
Many injuries can be appropriately treated with ice to reduce swelling, rest, and compression. Usually, it is best to avoid the specific workout/sports event that caused the injury until the injury is completely healed.
However, it is sometimes possible to cross-train during the healing process of many injuries, which involves working out other areas of the body or lightly working out the area that is injured. This can be beneficial as it helps to keep the body in shape and allows the athlete to stay mentally focused on their fitness, sports and mental well-being goals.
Once the injury has healed, the athlete should slowly begin participating in the workout/sports event and increase the level of intensity and/or duration over time. By doing so, the athlete will minimize the probability of re-injuring themselves, and they will also allow themselves the time required to redevelop the confidence in the workout/sports event in which they are participating.
Although the prevention of all sports injuries are impossible, athletes and fitness enthusiasts can reduce their risk of injury by simply adding the techniques and approaches described above to their daily workout routine/sporting event. This will not only elevate your athletic performance to a higher level of physical consistency, but a longer career as an athlete as well.