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Sports injury prevention|
A cynic would say that the best sports injury prevention is to not to play sport, but that rather misses the point.
Anyone playing sport is to a greater or lesser extent at risk of injury, the intensity, frequency and type of play being only some of the factors that may influence physical damage. Thus, although the ideal may be to prevent injury, the practical goal should be to minimise it.
Perhaps the most basic way to reduce injury is to play according to the
rules, though if the media are to be believed this presents the greatest
growth area in the league table of sporting trauma. The laws of all
sports were designed to ensure a level playing field but the increasing
use of blatant fouls and cheating as the prizes grow larger can only
contribute to the growing toll of injury. Pressure on umpires and
referees comes from all directions. They are branded incompetent when
the slow-motion TV camera picks up a missed infringement, overzealous if
they apply rules to the letter, and berated by players where decisions
go against them. And all for the love of sport and travel expenses!
That money is a factor in the attitude of sportsmen cannot be denied.
With some professionals retiring by the age of 30 to draw pensions it is
vital for them that these are topped up in their playing years. So if
bending the rules or fouling helps that fund...well, that's the name of
the game - isn't it?
Newton and the strike angle
Injury may come from various directions. In contact sports, external trauma from
an opponent, accidental or premeditated, causes a very high percentage. However,
it is not only the intensity of the contact that produces damage but also the
angle of strike, the part of the body affected and the forces enacted according
to Newton's laws that determine the extent of the injury. To help minimise this,
the industry of protective body wear has developed, leading in its most extreme
case to that grotesque caricature of sport, the American Footballer. The wonder
is that he can manage to run at all, kitted out like Mr Blobby!
Nevertheless, sensible protection will spare players many injuries. A man who
plays games involving small hard spherical objects and fails to look after his
own is risking more than leisure pursuits. The footballer who will not wear shin
pads could be deemed negligent in a sport where so much lower-limb contact
occurs within the rules. The list of sensible protective clothing and equipment
is endless, the necessity and suitability of much of it producing a fine line,
in any active sports, between flexibility and relative immobility.
Successful teams and players usually have good coaches. To gain the highest
professional qualifications most coaches will have undergone both generalised
and sports-specific training under the auspices of such bodies as the National
Coaching Foundation. As their courses include anatomy, physiology, psychology,
nutrition, performance and injury prevention within their modules, there should
be no excuse for coaches who are unaware of the effect their training programmes
may have upon their charges.
Not only will intelligent coaching help to develop efficient and powerful
players, but sensible adaptation of the regime can also allow an injured player
to maintain a degree of fitness while the injury heals. Further than this,
liaison with sports scientists, whose use of the slow-motion camera has
revolutionised our perception of biomechanical movement, can often pinpoint the
cause of an injury or even predict the one that occurs as a result of poor
Coaches also have pressures upon them to produce their strongest teams and may
play their least-injured players rather than their fittest, Armageddon occurring
when the two are synonymous. Playing with an injury invites problems on two
fronts: first, the original injury may be reactivated, and second, the stresses
induced by favouring it may place intolerable strain on other structures which
then break down.
To avoid injury, don't be injured
So if injury is to be prevented, the player must start with no injury. This
somewhat chicken-and-egg situation can be minimised if adequate precautions are
taken. The necessity for warm-up has often been stressed, the similar need for a
warm-down and the will to perform it rather less emphasised. The warm-up itself
must be scientific - a five-minute jog followed by a couple of efforts merely
scratches the surface. During competition the joints involved are liable to be
used not only through their normal range of flexibility but also, often at the
behest of an opponent, into angles of extension not previously contemplated. So
before a warm-up, which often only increases the heart rate to competition
levels and prepares muscles for aerobic exercise, there should be a programme of
movement for each joint to take it to its extremes and to lengthen muscles and
tendons so that the shock of competition does not immediately tear them.
Flexibility should therefore be built into every training programme, but a
survey of the tight hamstrings of nearly every distance runner shows the
futility of suggesting such exercises. An inability to comprehend that much of
the lower-back pain from which they suffer is related to stiff and unstretched
hamstrings is accompanied by the unspoken fear that time spend in stretching
equals time and mileage lost in training, and all runners know that low mileage
means poor results, don't they? However, lengthened hamstrings could allow an
increase in stride length and performances to match, but how to persuade the
blinkered mileage freak?
Sit back and ask yourself why
The trained athlete has one other source of injury - overuse. Repeated movement
and actions, especially within the one plane, can induce injury that
insufficient recovery will accentuate. Unfortunately, fitness is a knife-edge -
under-training equals under-performance while over-training equals over-use
There is no single way to prevent this, though varied training in terms of
effort, intensity, terrain, environmental conditions and distance may all
minimise the risk. The runner with a set 50-miles-per-week routine will probably
suffer more from injury over a four-week period than the one who runs 35, 60, 45
and 60 miles in successive weeks, allowing time for recovery after harder and
Objective coaching can educate, not only with regard to lower limbs, but also in
the case of the racket player with tennis elbow, the swimmer with shoulder
impingement pain, and so on through the endless list of over-use damage.
If a single piece of advice existed for prevention of injury, many medical and
paramedical staff would be out of work. However, if present trends continue the
need for medical care of injured players will increase rather than decrease.
That, however, does not prevent each individual from sitting back
dispassionately from his sport and, with the help of a coach, knowledgeable
friend or even training companion, trying to analyse why any previous injury has
occurred and outlining the measures necessary to prevent the most common cause
of human beings ceasing to participate in one of life' s greatest pleasures.
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Published on: 2006-07-26 (659 reads)[ Go Back ]