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Sports Injuries

Updated 30 May 2016

Preventing sports injuries

While a sports injury can never be entirely prevented, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of injury. These include warming up properly, using the right equipment, proper technique and the appropriate amount of rest and recovery.

Suffering an injury from an exercise or sport can not only be painful and require time off from your sport or training, but it can cause future health niggles down the line. Here are some steps to reduce your risk of a sports injury:

Warm-up properly

Failing to properly warm-up your muscles and joints before performing strenuous exercise or a physically demanding sport will almost guarantee an injury. Intense training can predispose some muscles vulnerable to injury through overuse if they’re not adequately warmed-up.

Every warm-up session should be at least 10-15 minutes long and be a balance of stretching and light exercise to encourage blood flow to the muscles to prepare them for the activity to follow.

Warming up effectively  increases blood flow to the muscles and increasing the flexibility of the muscle fibres, considerably reducing the risk of pulling or straining a muscle.

Stretch the Achilles tendon, hamstring, and quadriceps areas and hold the positions. Don’t bounce.

Use the right equipment

Depending on the type of sport or exercise you’re participating in, if it comes with protective equipment, use it.

Especially if the sport or activity involves physical contact with other players (rugby/ soccer) or possible contact with objects such as hard balls (cricket/baseball). Some protective equipment includes shin pads, boxing gloves or protective head gear.

The right footwear is also important as shoes designed specifically offer certain sports offer specific support to the foot and ankle to prevent twisting and injury. Wearing properly fitting shoes helps provide shock absorption and stability.

Proper technique

Regardless of the exercise or sport you’re participating in you need to  learn the correct techniques associated with it. Not only to prevent overuse injury but also to get the most out of your exercise by working the right muscles and tendons.

Make use of the right qualified experts to assist you and teach you the correct form and technique.

Know your limits

Any sport or exercise should push you out your comfort zone and challenge you. But you also need to learn to listen to your body and acknowledge your physical limitations.

If you are new to a sport or form of exercise, start out slowly to avoid pulling or straining muscles and give yourself time to build up your stamina and strength gradually. In time your fitness and strength will increase, and then you can push yourself more.

Strive for a total body workout of cardiovascular, strength-training, and flexibility exercises.

The importance of rest days

Daily exercise is an ideal many people strive for, and while it is a good idea to keep moving every day, rest days are just as important as the days you train. You body cannot function optimally if you exercise intensely every single day and do not give it time to recover. The muscles need to rest and recover. Not only can inadequate rest lead to injury but it can also lead to plateaus.

Intense exercise puts a strain on the musculoskeletal system, nervous system, and immune system which puts you at risk for injury and even illness.

This doesn’t mean you have to spend a rest day on the couch though – active recovery is always an option. So use your rest days to do some yoga, go for a hike, a slow jog or a bike ride. Just make sure it’s something low-intensity and different from your usual training.

Pain vs. discomfort

Pushing through pain is a sure-fire way to get injured and be out of your sport for a long time. You need to learn to listen to your body, know when you’re experiencing discomfort and when your body is in pain. 

Discomfort during exercise is common, especially in those new to exercise, where they are pushing out of their comfort zones and getting breathless, sweaty and tired. However, actual pain which is signalled by any burning, stabbing or sharp pains is your body’s way of telling you to stop. If you continue and ignore these signals, injury is sure to follow.

Keep hydrated

Especially in warm environments or when exercising outside, make sure you remain hydrated or you will be at risk for injury.

A dehydrated body can drastically reduce mental and physical fitness and put you at risk for injury.

Cool down adequately

Just as important as the warm-up, the cool down after physical exertion is important. Catch your breath and then perform between 5-10 minutes of gentle exercise (walking, light cycling) to allow your heart rate to return to normal. This will also give your body enough time to flush out lactic acid and get the blood flowing with oxygen and nutrients to your tired muscles, which also prevents muscle stiffness.

Read more: 

Preventing sports injuries

What are sports injuries? 

Treating sports injuries 

References:

Handout on Health: Sports Injuries: NIH Publication No. 13–5278; http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sports_Injuries/default.asp#ra2

Sports Injuries; Mediline Plus ( 2 October 2014); https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sportsinjuries.html#summary

Sports Medicine Information: (2009) How can I avoid a sp injury?  http://www.nsmi.org.uk/articles/avoid-sports-injury.html


 

Ask the Expert

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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