The most common injuries in sport are muscle and ligament tears, overuse injuries from repetitive activities and bruises from falls and knocks. Apart from trauma, many injuries are preventable through correct training and conditioning of the body.
The three most common preventable causes of gym and sports injuries are:
- Sudden increase in the duration of the activity
- Sudden increase in the intensity of the activity
- Sudden increase in the speed of the activity
This applies to all sports from weight lifting through to endurance sports such as running and ball sports such as tennis and squash.
What are the rules for safe exercise?
Listen to your body—no gain if there is pain!
The first rule of safe exercise is to listen to your body and adapt your day’s exercise to the current state of your energy and injury levels. For example if you have had a few nights of poor sleep your body will be fatigued, this means that a hard exercise session may tire you to the point of injury as your reserves are already depleted. Pain, especially repetitive pain, is a warning that you may be damaging something and it should not be ignored. –Reassess your training behavior before you injure yourself.
Small regular progressions of speed, distance or intensity (weight) are better than a sudden increase. Only change one variable at a time. For example in the gym if you increase the weight you use, keep the speed and the number of repetitions the same until you are adapted to the new weight. When increasing your distance in endurance sport, go a bit slower or keep the same speed until your joints are adapted to the new distance. Only increase a small amount each time, adding on 10% of the previous distance is a common suggestion.
Warm ups and cools downs
Warming up and cool downs after exercise are important and should reflect the needs of your sport. Warm up the muscles and joints you are going to use, for example in running warm up with a walk or a slow jog. For hockey warm up with a slow jog and some drills for coordination. Stretch gently and slowly on rest days. Remember that unless you are a gymnast, climber or dancer you do not need extreme suppleness.
Cool downs should include those same muscles groups, so a cool down for running should be slower jog or walking. Gentle stretching of the main muscles used during the sport should be part of your cool down. Never stretch into pain, it should feel pleasantly stretchy not agonizing.
Warming up for a weights session can include cardio vascular exercise like cycling but the first set of exercise for any muscle group should be slower and lighter to get that muscle group warm.
Prevention is better than cure
If your sport involves high agility activities such as quick turns, sudden sprints and stops or balance with speed, you need to train your joints and muscles to react fast. This training is called plyometric and proprioceptive training. Ask your physiotherapist, biokineticist or coach what exercises you need to do.
Training too frequently without enough rest time is a common cause of injury. Your body needs time to heal and grow stronger after each training session. The older you are the longer it takes your body to recover. Rest days in your week are as important as training days. Rest weeks in your training month are also important. A rest day may mean no exercise at all or a very relaxed session of a completely different exercise to your normal sport. A rest week involves halving your exercise intensity for the week, or doing a different light intensity activity that uses different muscle groups.
Incorrect equipment is often a cause of injuries from blisters (painful but short lived) to tennis elbow. If possible, test your equipment before you buy. Get advice from different trustworthy sources, as what works for one person may not work for you. Know your options within your sport for individualizing equipment if necessary.
If you are desk bound at work make sure you get up frequently and stretch your arms and legs. Sitting for long periods fatigues some muscles and often results in poor postures that predispose to injuries in sport.
By Sarah Jones Physiotherapist.
Sarah is an independent physiotherapist who works from Brampton Practice. Sarah has a master’s degree in manipulative therapy and has a special interest in sports injuries and back problems.
She can be contacted on 021 6710543 or firstname.lastname@example.org.