When it comes to our health, prevention is much better than cure. Several injuries are preventable if identified earlier on. If you are an athlete or simply a weekend warrior it is important to prepare yourself before doing any sports or high intensity activities to prevent yourself of getting hurt. In this discussion we will be focusing on the common lower body injuries in athletes, as well as different techniques to decrease the risk of injuries as well as proper recovery strategies.
Sports injuries occur during an exercise or while participating in a sport. Usually children are particularly at risk of injuries but adults can get them, too. For us to better understand the common lower body musculoskeletal injuries in sport, we should first identify the basic anatomy of our body. There are five basic soft tissues compromising our musculoskeletal system namely the bones, cartilage, ligaments, skeletal muscles and tendons.
- Bones are the soft tissues that provide structure, support and protect our body. It is the internal framework of the human body.
- Cartilage is a rubber-like padding that covers and protects end of bones at the joints. Joints are areas where two or more bones meet.
- Ligaments are bundles of connective tissue that connects bone to bone structures, stabilize and strengthen joints and determine the range of motion of a certain joint.
- Skeletal muscles are bundle of fibrous tissues that has the ability to contract and produce movement.
- Tendons are bundles of connective tissue that connects muscles to bones.
Knowing this basic anatomy of the body will provide us idea on what part of the body is affected and what are the symptoms that it can present. Different injuries produce different symptoms and complications. The most common types of injuries include:
- Sprains. Over stretching or tearing the ligament can result in a sprain. Commonly it is caused by fall, sudden twist, or blow to body. The most common sites of sprain in the lower body are the ankles and knees. Most minor-to-moderate Sprains will heal within 2-4 weeks, more severe sprains will need a longer time to heal up to 6-8 week and some serious sprains will need surgery.
- Strains. Over stretching or tearing the muscle, tendon or both can result in strain. Common sites are the hamstrings, achilles tendon and quadriceps muscle/ hip flexors. For mild strains the healing time would be 3-6 week depending on the severity and can take several months for moderate severity. Some cases needed a surgical repair and physical therapy.
- Tendinitis. An inflammation or irritation of tendon caused by repetitive micro trauma. It results from overuse and sudden excessive stretch. Common sites are patellar tendon (knee) and achilles tendon (ankle). Tendons take a long time to heal because of low blood supply. It may take 3-6 months to heal but physical therapy may improve the outlook. Mild cases can expect faster recovery time of up to 6 weeks.
- Fracture. A break in a bone. Usually caused by a direct impact such as fall or a sever tackle. Stress fracture can also develop over time due to overuse. Depending on the severity bone fractures can heal from few weeks to several months.
Given all these common injuries, what are the things that we need to do in order to avoid them? The best way to prevent these sports injuries is to warm-up properly, do basic strengthening exercises for the lower body and incorporate active recovery, sleep and nutrition.
PROPER WARM-UP TECHNIQUES
- Foam rolling. The benefits of foam rolling could range from warming-up your muscles to actually helping you recover faster after a workout or a game.
- Pillar preparation. Your pillar, which consists of your hips, torso, and shoulders, is the foundation for all movement. Pillar preparation, or pillar prep, primes critical muscles to prepare the body for a workout, decreasing the risk of injury and boosting performance.
- Movement preparation. Involves moving in a variety of directions at different speeds to help activate the tissues along with the nervous, circulatory and respiratory systems responsible for controlling and fueling movement.
- Neural activation drills. Neural activation drills are typically performed after our movement preparation. Incorporating these drills allows us to wake up our nervous system before we start strength training. Usually includes agility drills and foot/hand and eye coordination drills.
STHRENGTHENING OF THE LOWER BODY
Utilization of strength training for injury prevention is not a new concept, but for some reasons some coaches and athletes still don’t see it as a necessary addition to their training regimens. And some weekend warriors tend to disregard strength training thinking that playing a certain sport or doing a high intensity activity is already enough to make them fit or healthy. Resistance training provides dynamic loads on the joint, therefore creating physiological changes in the bone, muscle and connective tissue (tendons and ligaments). When a load is placed on the bone, the bone is remodeled, increasing bone density and therefore making the bone stronger which decrease the chance of bone injuries (fractures). Resistance training also helps strengthen muscles and tendons while increasing the flexibility of the ligaments decreasing the risk of injury (sprain, strain, and tendonitis).
Following strenuous endurance-type training with static rest can delay regeneration/recovery of the body’s system and removal of the by-products. Active recovery along with proper post-workout nutrition reignites immune system function which in turn allows the body to regenerate faster. An active recovery of 5-20mins of continuous steady state exercise (55% to 75% of Max HR) is a good follow up after a heavy workout or intense game.
IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP AND NUTRITION IN INJURY PREVENTION
Our body has two ways in getting energy; by eating nutritious food and by having a good, complete uninterrupted sleep. It is important for an athlete or any person to fuel his body with good nutrition and good sleep in order to prepare for the next workout or game that he will be having. Fasting or delaying the post-workout or post-game meal by few hours further exhausts the body and insufficiently prepares the athlete for the next training session which can also lead to injuries. And according to studies, athletes sleeping more than 8hrs of sleep during weekdays reduced the odds of injury by 61% to 64%. A combination of a good sleep and proper nutrition will result in increased performance and decreasing the chance of injury.
All in all, for us to prevent our self from getting injured we must understand the importance of proper warm-up, strengthening, active recovery, sleep and nutrition and be able to apply it in our daily routines. Always remember prevention is better than cure.