The proverbial weekend warrior. Elite ballet dancer. Division I football offensive lineman. High school volleyball player. Weight-loss bootcamper. Besides engaging in regular physical activity, what do these individuals have in common? Surprising to say, they all have a similar risk for the same injuries. Despite activity-to-activity variability regarding the most severe injury possible (walking vs. tackle football, for example), the most common injuries remain constant. Read below to learn more about the best ways to prevent injury.
- Be Prepared
It’s probably obvious that showing up for the first day of practice after sitting on the couch all summer is not a good idea. But did you know that being out of shape can also increase your risk for injury? Your body will be unable to safely adapt to game conditions that require cardiovascular capacity, swift change of direction, or rapid generation of large forces.Minimize this risk with a comprehensive program that includes strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility training. For kids, simply staying active is typically more than enough to safely participate in physical activity year round. For more elite athletes, an off-season program is more sophisticated and necessitates simulating game conditions. Either way, these processes safeguard your body by developing the endurance, agility, strength, and power needed for competition.
- Select the Correct Equipment
This is yet another broad suggestion, though a very important one. Again, it probably seems intuitive that ensuring adequate fit or appropriateness (selecting a soccer goalie glove instead of a first baseman’s mitt would not be appropriate) is ideal for safety regardless of sport, but in some instances, what is optimal may not be clear. This is why it is vital to ask a professional.Contusions (bruises) are among the most common sports injury. Whether in volleyball, rugby, or skateboarding, selecting the appropriate padding is vital.Sizing is also important. Though concussions and spinal injuries are more rare in contact sports than other injuries, ill-fitting headwear can increase the risk.Repetitive activity or high volume sports can lead to overuse injuries (distance running, volleyball). Be sure to select properly-fitted footwear that is specific to your sport and allows for adequate cushioning.
- Be Sure to Warm-Up and Cool-Down
Even well-conditioned athletes are at risk for common injuries like strains (muscular injury) and sprains (ligamentous injury). Minimizing risk certainly involves adequate preparation (see #1), though a proper warm-up and cool-down can provide an additional safeguard.Prior to activity, a dynamic warm-up is best. This can be general (think jumping jacks) or sport-specific (think plyometric activity for basketball players). By progressively moving your limbs through an active range of motion you effectively increase the temperature of the muscles making them more pliable and ready for action.Stretching can be an essential part of a cool-down as the muscles are already warm. At this point, you can take advantage of their pliability to improve range of motion.
- Ensure Appropriate Rest
Rest is vital year round. In the off-season, it is necessary to become faster and stronger. In-season, rest is important to recover from strenuous activity and allow athletes to be fresh heading into the next competition.Again, in high volume sports with repetitive activities, rest is vital to prevent overuse injuries (stress fractures, tennis elbow, jumper’s knee). At least one day each week without any activity whatsoever should be programmed-in year round.While training, rest is a key part of any performance goal. For example, near complete recovery should be allowed in between sets where strength or power development is the main goal. If hypertrophy is paramount, rest periods should be kept around 30 seconds.For multi-day workout regimens, ensure 24-48 hour rest periods before working the same muscle groups.
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Though maintaining adequate hydration during competition is imperative, hydration actually begins weeks prior.At one end of the severity spectrum lies heat related illness. Keep in mind, dehydration can occur at any time of the year, however. Cramping is a less dangerous injury that can be associated with insufficient fluid intake. It is therefore critical to ensure proper intake year round, to avoid these types of ailments.The 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines no longer recommend a specific water intake, though they do suggest opting for plain water over flavored beverages. It is also important to keep in mind that fruits and vegetables have a high water content. If you select a diet that is largely based on single-ingredient, whole foods and consume water with each snack/meal, you are likely taking in a sufficient amount.
The Take Home Message
Regardless of your skill level, frequency of involvement, or activity of choice, you are most at-risk for injuries such as contusions, strains, sprains, cramping, and dehydration. More severe injuries like ligament ruptures, fractures, and concussions are less common though the tips listed here can also help minimize the risk for these types of trauma. To safeguard yourself from the most common sport-related injuries, follow these 5 steps:
- Prepare for competition with a training program that emphasizes strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility.
- Select equipment appropriate for your sport and ensure adequate fit.
- Dynamically warm-up prior to activity, and target flexibility after.
- Ensure sufficient rest to prevent overtraining and to maximize recovery.
- Hydrate year round.