Sports Injuries

Updated 22 June 2016

5 tips for reducing sports-related joint injuries

In sports such as running, rugby and soccer, there is always a risk of straining your knees, ankles and other joints but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of injury...

Intense training and high-impact sports such as running, rugby and soccer can take their toll on your joints, putting you at risk of wear-and-tear, joint pain, sports injuries and even osteoarthritis.

When running or playing sports that require a lot of running, high impact can put strain on the ankles, knees in particular. For contact sports like rugby, the shoulders and neck are also vulnerable to damage.

Whilst it is almost impossible to completely prevent yourself from suffering an injury, there are some steps you can take to reduce the strain on your joints and minimise injury:

1. Making your diet joint-friendly

A healthy, balanced diet is vital for healthy bones and joints. The Arthritis Foundation of America recommends an anti-inflammatory diet to reduce joint pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.

A previous Health24 article explains that an anti-inflammatory diet involves eating a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as omega-3 and -6 fatty acids to promote joint lubrication whilst reducing inflammation. Calcium and vitamin D are also important as they assist in building bone.

Getting enough sulphur in your diet will benefit your joints too. Sulphur draws fluid into the joints, contributing to lubrication.

Read: How you can avoid sports injuries

2.  Improve balance and stability

In sports such as rugby, netball and soccer, players are required to change direction quickly. Here, balance and stability play an important role in preventing injury to the joints.

Using a balance board is one way of improving stability. A systematic review of studies on the prevention of sports injuries published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that training with a balance board is an effective means of reducing ankle injuries. 

3. Treating pain & lubricating joints

Managing pain can be tricky for athletes. Taking pain medication such an analgesics or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID's) are effective in relieving joint pain but training whilst taking them can be risk. For marathon runners, using painkillers has been associated with muscular issues, interfering with the muscle's ability to contract and relax which can lead to muscle cramps. 

An alternative approach is to use a topical, drug-free gel. Look out for one that contains phospholipids. These are a important component of synovial fluid which is responsible for lubricating your joints. With drug-free treatments, there is less down time, meaning that you don't get behind on your training.

Read: Injury-proof your body

4. Mix it up

Cross-training is important to prevent straining your weight-bearing joints. If you run or play a sport that requires a lot of running, it is important to give your knees and ankles a break, according to Dr. Michael Fredericson, Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Stanford University Medical Centre and director of the Stanford Runner's Injury Clinic. In a interview for Stanford University's blog, Dr. Fredericson recommends including other aerobic exercises in your training schedule. This could include deep-water running, eliptical training or cycling.

5. Take a time out

Over-training and too little recovery time can lead to fatigue which puts your body at an increased risk of injury. Take regular rest days and don't overdo it. Try alternating intense and easier training sessions to avoid putting excessive strain on your body.

Dizziness from dehydration can also cause you to step incorrectly or lose your balance. Be sure to keep up your fluid intake to prevent dehydration and consider taking an electrolyte solution or supplement to prevent an imbalance. 

Read more:

Overexercising leads to injury

Athletes have high pain tolerance

Are sportsmen prone to specific injuries?

Image: Cardio training from Shutterstock


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Sports Injuries Expert

Adrian Rotunno is a medical doctor in the Sports & Exercise Medicine fellowship at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, and qualified physiotherapist. Team physician for Dimension Data pro-cycling, and Boland Rugby. Special interests include endurance sport, in particular cycling, as well as contact sports.

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