Summer is in full bloom, and that often means a change in our routines. Whether it is more recreational time for yourself, a vow to get in better shape (maybe by taking up a new activity?), or you’re between seasons in your sport of choice, we all tend to play more in the summer and move differently. This seems like a good time to open the discussion on sports injuries and how to prevent them.
Here at the Club, we often hear of people getting injured doing recreational activities. We also see High School and College Athletes in the gym trying to keep up with their training in the off season. Everyone from the Saturday pick-up gamester to the Division I athlete has a change in routine in the summer. Injuries are common in any sport and can happen without warning.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent the likelihood of receiving a sport related injury. Most sports have injuries that are more common to that specific sport than others. Preventing these injuries is often just a matter of strategic training. More often than not, injuries can be prevented by making sure that the muscular systems used most in that the specific sport are prepared to endure the wear and tear placed on them during practices and games.
Mike Boyle, one of the foremost experts in Strength and Conditioning, Functional Training and general fitness, talks about the Joint-by-Joint Approach. Essentially, the body is a chain reaction and one joint can only work properly and sustain continued and concentrated use if the other joints around it are functioning properly. Let’s take a look at the cause of four common sport-specific injuries and discuss how conditioning tailored to that sport can usually prevent the injury.
- Shoulder Wear and Tear Injuries common to baseball, tennis, volleyball, swimming, water polo and quarterbacking.
- Neck and Upper Back Strain that can occur as a result of limited shoulder mobility.
- Ankle, Knee and Hip Impact Injuries common to football, basketball and other contact sports.
- Knee Wear and Tear and Overuse Injuries common to running as a sport in itself or as a component of a sport.
Wear and tear injuries in the shoulders are common for athletes who rely on their throwing ability. In baseball, for example, repeated overhead movements are inevitable. Constantly throwing a baseball with power behind it overtime will wear and eventually tear your acromioclavicular (AC) joint. This in turn could affect your scapula causing a whole mess of things to happen. This injury isn’t just prone to baseball players but any sport that requires consistent overhead motions such as: tennis, volleyball, swimming, water polo and football quarterbacks to name a few.
There are many drills to help prevent this injury for these athletes. When looking at a strength and conditioning program for athletes with these constant overhead motions, you want to partner strengthening/rehabilitation movements with mobility drills. Partnering these together will allow the athlete to constantly increase their shoulder strength but also help them maintain, if not increase, their range of motion. This will also help reduce the athlete’s soreness the next day since the mobility drills in the strength and conditioning program will help push lactic acid out of that particular muscle.
A valuable added benefit of shoulder mobility drills for the above sports is increased neck mobility. If you ever wake up with a stiff or sore neck, a good fix would be to work on active and passive shoulder mobility drills. Just like everything else in your body, everything works together, including athlete’s shoulders and necks. Working on shoulder mobility drills will increase range of motion in athlete’s shoulders, neck and thoracic spine. It isn’t all about lifting heavy weight and getting as strong as possible, but working to keep every joint working together in a healthy fashion.
Football and basketball are two of the most popular sports worldwide today. Just like any other sport, there are specific injuries that these athletes may receive more frequently than other athletes. Since this is a fast paced game with various multi-directional movements, athletes will perform triple extension (full extension through ankles, knees and hips as in a jump), loaded and unloaded, which will affect all three joints. This applies to any athlete who performs quick multi-directional movements with jumps or bounds involved. To prevent injuries during these moves, building a strong frame is the first step.
Looking back at the Joint-by-Joint approach, surrounding joints need to be healthy and strong to support these moves. Building a strong core will not only help you look good on the beach, but help your entire body as well. Working on unilateral movements (single-sided) will help your body focus more on what that limb/area needs to be doing. For example, when athletes perform a simple stationary lunge, they are strengthening the ankle, knee and hip. Being able to increase your ankle mobility, knee stability and hip mobility will decrease your chance of receiving an injury relating to a triple extension movement – as long as those joints are strong and healthy.
Running is a big part of almost every dryland sport from Track and Cross Country to playing lacrosse, soccer, or field hockey. Running is a repetitive high-impact movement that puts a lot of force and stress on the lower body, especially the knees. Within a running motion, the foot strikes the ground with impact. That force will travel up through your foot and calf and eventually be absorbed mostly by your knee. A great way to decrease the chance of receiving a high-impact injury through running is to increase your hamstring and glute strength; also known as your “horsepower” muscles. Working on the quadricep will also increase knee stability and help you last longer while running.
Working the surrounding muscles directly increases the athlete’s knee stability, reduces the small aches and pains that may occur, and decreases the chance of injury. In addition to strengthening the surrounding muscles, an athlete can build muscular endurance by performing low-impact movements once or twice a week, in place of running. Low-impact movements will take the force out of the knees and hips since the feet won’t be striking the ground. This can either mean getting on a bike or elliptical or taking a swim. These substitutes for running will still increase muscular endurance but reduce the impact on the joint, allowing the athlete to improve their running with less risk of injury.
Think of injuries as our reminders that athletes are not superhuman. Remember that injuries can happen to anyone, athlete or not, on a day-to-day basis. First and foremost, an athlete must understand the difference between fatigued muscles and real pain (the body’s warning). Once an athlete can distinguish that, they can then follow the correct path to get healthy and stay that way. A good Strength and Conditioning regimen is not only the best way to prevent sports related injuries, it is the best way to be the best you can at your favorite sport!