With increasing numbers participating in sport and exercise since the arrival of the bright evenings and relatively good weather, we’ve seen an increase in running, golfing and other sporting injuries. So before all you fair weather sports enthusiasts rush out straight from work into a round of golf or a run we thought we should remind you of some general principles of injury prevention.
The warm up forms an essential component of any exercise. A warm up should focus on the muscles to be used during the exercise and is determined by the type of exercise or activity that you plan on doing. A warm-up for a round of golf for example should focus on warming up of the upper limbs and back, whereas a runner will need to focus on the legs. A warm-up should consist of gentle aerobic exercise of main muscle groups to be used during activities, gentle stretching and gradual increasing of the heart rate.
A good specific warm-up leads to fewer injuries due to:
- Increased blood flow to muscles
- Increased joint range of motion
- Improved muscle flexibility
- Improved circulation
GAA teams in particular are often guilty of foregoing a warm-up and go straight into kicking footballs over the bar from 35-40 yards – a sure recipe for quad and hip flexor tears. Similarly, golfers often arrive to the 1st tee directly from the car and go straight into a full swing, increasing the likelihood of wrist, shoulder and lower back injuries.
Muscle flexibility is an important factor in injury prevention. Injury occurs in muscle and connective tissue which is forced beyond its natural limit called the “plastic yield point”, resulting in muscular strain. By engaging in stretching we hope to lengthen muscles and connective tissue making them more flexible and adaptable to stresses at their end of range, thereby reducing the likelihood of injury.
In general the following rules apply with regard to stretching:
- Make sure you’re warm before stretching
- Hold stretches for 30-60 seconds
- Repeat, stretching further the second time
- Stretch to point of tension not pain
- Stretch before and after exercise
Beware of the impact of over training on increasing injury likelihood. Training programmes should be individually tailored with adequate rest periods and cross training. The general principles of training state that the body needs to be put under stress in order to produce a training effect and to benefit from the work-out. However continuous high intensity bouts of exercise without appropriate periodization and rest days will lead to an increased likelihood of overuse injuries.
Overuse injuries are particularly common in runners who participate in high volumes of a single type of training. This can commonly lead to lower limb overuse injuries. Adequate periodization, and cross training is crucial in prevention of such injuries. There may be a case for the introduction of a weight training or pool session instead of one of the longer runs perhaps once a week. This and other such strategies to prevent over training should be discussed with your coach.
Appropriate Footwear & Equipment
It’s true that we often contribute to the development of our sports injuries by using inappropriate equipment, which accelerates the onset of chronic musculoskeletal conditions. Poor running shoes often represent a major contributory factor in lower limb pain in runners. Similarly, many tennis injuries may stem from inappropriate tension in the racket strings.
All potential causes of injuries should be thoroughly investigated when you develop an overuse injury. This should include the equipment and footwear that we use during our sporting activities. A good piece of advice for runners is that if nothing else has changed in you’re training programme but you’ve developed some sort of lower limb injury without increased training volume, you should initially suspect footwear as the cause.
Protection of Existing Injuries
The final major principle of injury prevention is to protect what we already know to be weak. Taping, strapping and bracing are obvious examples of techniques to protect our existing injuries.
Unfortunately, no matter how well you’ve participated in the rehabilitation of some injuries they can be susceptible to recurrence. Ankle ligament sprains and achilles tendon problems are two common examples. Taping and strapping may be used in these and other cases to facilitate an early return to sporting activity or to protect pre-existing injuries. The danger with taping or strapping is that they are sometimes used as a substitute for adequate injury rehabilitation. This situation should be avoided but taping remains important in injury prevention.