Sports Injury Prevention Tips
Sandy Baird, D.C.
Whether you prefer team sports like soccer, basketball, or rugby, or individual sports such as tennis, swimming, or racquetball, it’s crucial to your health and happiness to take preventative steps (swings, strokes, etc.) against injury. While some injuries may be entirely unavoidable, you can reduce your risk of many sports injuries (both mild and severe) by following the tips below. It’s important to view this issue from multiple angles, as just addressing one aspect and ignoring all the rest will result in a not-so sharp picture of the healthy athlete.
Get the proper nutrition:
You can have the perfect biomechanics, optimal skeletal alignment, and the strongest muscles in the world, but if you aren’t taking in the right fuel, you’re leaving your body prone to fatigue (which is one of the most common causes of soft tissue injuries). Read “The Paleo Diet for Athletes” by Dr. Loren Cordain and use your intuition to decide if adopting some of the Paleo Diet’s nutritional recommendations might work for your body to help prevent sports injuries. Also check out “Why We Get Fat: And what to do about it” by Gary Taubes to gain an understanding of how carbohydrates, fats, and protein fuel your system. Make sure you’re eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. Raw tomatoes and peas fresh from the Farmer’s Market, grilled eggplant and peppers on the weekend, kale blended into a fruit smoothie for a quick morning snack. However you prepare them, their generous fiber and antioxidant content will serve you well. Enjoy a reasonable amount of non-farmed fish, responsibly sourced eggs, and grass-fed lean meats. Make sure you’re getting enough heart-healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats and the proper ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats have been shown to be protective of heart disease, and both are necessary for proper cell function. This could look like a drizzle of olive oil and some avocado slices on those delicious salads you’ve been lovingly preparing, a moderate quantity of a variety of nuts and seeds, and some meals containing fatty fish. The healthiest fish to eat can be easily remembered by the acronym “SMASH”. That’s Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, and Herring.
This concept is a bit more holistic than simply coaching a runner to add one lap-swimming workout per week, or a flag-football player to do regular kettlebell strength workouts. It is rather, using our bodies in different ways as often as we can, to create a situation in which our whole is greater than the sum of our parts. Incorporating a yoga practice into one’s life can provide great benefit to any athlete. On the physical level, yoga can increase flexibility, strength, posture, and circulation. On a mental level, yoga can decrease stress, anxiety, fatigue, and anger, as evidenced by a 2011 study in the Journal of Biopsychosocial Medicine.1 On a spiritual level, yoga encourages practitioners to be dynamic forces for positive change, both within ourselves, and in our community. Certainly these are vital ingredients for a well-balanced (cross-trained) life. Yoga is not everybody’s cup of tea, so if you prefer a hike alongside the flavorful blackberries growing on vines in Tilden Park to the peppermint flavor of both the invigoration and relaxation that is “downward dog”, go for it! Vary your terrain to stimulate the proprioceptive sensors in the joints and tissues of your feet. These sensors fire off messages to the brain telling it where your feet are located in space. Our brains thrive on novel sensory input. When your brain gets the optimum input, it can send the optimum output. This means that stimulating those proprioceptors allows your body to learn the strongest and most accurate movement patterns, which aid in the prevention of injuries. Choose to do what you love, choose something new to try, or go back to an old favorite activity. Our bodies thrive on variety and it’s the best way to prevent sports injuries!
Care for your muscles after workouts:
In addition to an adequate cool down period, there are several modalities you can choose from to maintain the structural integrity of your soft tissues in order to prevent sports injuries. Scar tissue tends to form in and between our muscles as a result of an acute injury or as a result of repetitive motion. Running up and down the field for hours of soccer games and practices definitely qualifies as repetitive motion! The muscles become inflamed from overuse, and scar tissue starts to lay itself down. It’s our body’s survival mechanism to survive injury, but it hinders our movement and function if we don’t address it in a timely manner. Using tools such as the foam roller and TheStickTM can generally break up the scar tissue when used regularly. Every night, roll one of these tools over each of the main muscle groups you used that day, focusing your application to the sorest areas. For scar tissue that is chronic, or that can’t be resolved by self-care, one good solution is getting Active Release Techniques (ART) treatments. ART is the gold standard treatment system for soft tissue injuries. We utilize this system at Riverstone because the treatment protocols allow us to identify and correct the specific problems that are affecting each patient.
Consider Biomechanical Analysis and Functional Exercises:
Performing a biomechanical analysis allows us to “diagnose” an athlete’s biomechanical or movement dysfunction by breaking down the fundamental dynamic movements to expose the weak link contributing to injury and/or decreased performance. We then prescribe specific functional exercises for you to perform that are designed to strengthen your weak links, and give you the best possible chance to remain injury-free.
These injury prevention tips are applicable both on and off the field. Getting the right nutrition, mixing up your activities, being diligent with self care, and finding and correcting the causes of your weak links will go a long way towards also preventing injuries that might arise during everyday activities.
1. Yoshihara et al. Profile of mood states and stress-related biochemical indices in long-term yoga practitioners. Biopsychosoc Med. 2011; 5: 6.