The 4-1-1 on Sports Injuries
Having two left-feet doesn’t mean you can’t exercise or play sports without getting hurt. You just need to understand how injuries happen and take some measures to prevent them. Here’s what you need to know.
All About Injuries
Around one in ten musculoskeletal injuries in Canada are sports-related – and the majority occur in people under 30. Most of these sports or exercise injuries are muscle strains or sprains, although bone fractures and dislocations make up another 5-6 per cent. Exercise injuries can be defined either as acute or overuse injuries.
Acute injuries occur as a result of a single, sudden trauma – a fracture caused by the impact between two football players, for example, or a sudden pulled muscle.
Overuse injuries develop gradually and occur when an area of the body is damaged as a result of the regular pressures of training over an extended period. Examples of common overuse injuries include stress fractures, shin splints and bursitis.
Although relatively few sports injuries are very serious, they can be painful and disruptive. Injuries cannot always be prevented but there are a number of ways that you can reduce your risk.
How Injuries Happen
All physical activity places your body under stress. Usually this is desirable: your body responds to these demands by becoming physically more fit. Aerobic exercise, by making your heart and lungs work harder, improves the efficiency with which you take in oxygen and burn energy. Your bones and muscles respond to the strain of weight-bearing exercise by increasing in strength and mass. A degree of physical exertion is therefore vital if you want to get results – the key to avoiding injury is to keep these pressures at a level that your body can handle.
Start and Stop Right
Warming up before exercise prepares your body for exertion by warming muscles and increasing flexibility. It is particularly important to help prevent muscle and ligament strains and sprains.
Strong, balanced muscles will stabilize your joints. If you’re unfit or out of shape you should therefore start slowly and build up intensity as your strength improves. Targeted resistance training can strengthen specific joints, which will then protect the area during other activities.
Lack of flexibility is a major cause of muscle strains, sprains and tendonitis, particularly in older people. For this reason, it is important to stretch after exercise.
Practice Makes Perfect
Lack of skill increases your risk of injury, making you more likely to misjudge movements. It is also important not to be too reckless.
Put Your Best Shoe Forward
Very often, the most important piece of equipment is footwear. A good pair of shoes is vital in many sports to provide support and absorb shock. Wear well-fitting, supportive shoes that are designed to be used for the sport you are doing.
Look Before You Leap
If you’re a jogger, for example, running on soft grass or sand will place less strain on your hips and knees than hard roads. Uneven surfaces, tree roots and potholes can cause sprained ankles, while wet surfaces may be slippery.
Know When To Stop
Many sports injuries – and most overuse injuries – are a result of training for too long or training at too high an intensity. Your muscles need time to recover from exercise, so taking too few breaks or rest days can cause problems. Your body also needs time to adapt and build up endurance: too sharp an increase in the level of exercise is a common cause of overuse injuries such as runner’s knee.
Whether or not someone is training too hard depends on an individual’s own level of fitness, so it is hard to make specific recommendations. As a general rule, do not exercise strenuously every day and try to vary the type of exercise you do.
Dealing with the Aftermath
Past injury to an area of your body greatly increases your chance of injuring that area again. Only 50 per cent of sports-injuries are new injuries – the rest are recurrences of earlier problems. To reduce the risk:
Learn From the Past
Recognize why the injury occurred in the first instance, so you can avoid making a similar mistake in the future. If your injury is connected to overtraining, for example, take things more slowly and include more rest days in the future.
Wait until you’re fully recovered before placing the injured area under stress. Many people resume exercise too early.
Go For Rehab
Strengthen the area involved before resuming exercise. Even after the injury has healed, the area will be less flexible and the muscles around the injury weaker. You may need a program of rehabilitation to rebuild strength. A physiotherapist can provide you with tailored advice on safe rehabilitation.