Sports injuries can happen to both athletes in peak conditions and someone training for their first 5K race.
The most common sports injuries affect ligaments and tendons. The most common ligament injuries are sprains, which occur when ligaments are stretched beyond their capacity. This type of overextension can also cause tears, but sprains are more common. Injuries to muscle fibers or tendons, often referred to as “pulled muscles,” are the overstretching or tearing of the tendons that anchor the muscle to the bones.
There are many ways to reduce the risk of incurring an injury. Warming up, stretching, and maintaining mobility can be a good place to start. But some injuries are more common than others, and there are specific ways that you can prepare your body to minimise the risk of hurting yourself.
Here are the 5 most common sports injuries and specific ways that you can avoid them:
Ankle sprains occur when the ligaments alongside the ankle become strained or tear, typically along the outside of the ankle. Ankle sprains can happen during almost any type of physical activity. Mild sprains could have minor symptoms such as a small amount of swelling and discomfort; major sprains could induce massive amounts of swelling and visible bruising.
Strengthening the muscles around the ankle joint can help to reduce the risk of experiencing a sprain. There are many simple exercises that you can do to better support your ankle. Tracing the letters of the alphabet in the air with your toes builds strength in the entire range of motion of our ankle. Performing calf raises can also help to increase your ankle stability.
A groin pull (or groin strain) is the manifestation of a tear in one of the adductor muscles in the inner thigh. As with ankle sprains, a groin injury can range from mildly uncomfortable to physically debilitating. Physical activities that require frequent lateral or directional movements, such as soccer or basketball, run a particularly high risk of incurring a groin strain.
To reduce the risk of incurring a groin injury, you should perform exercises that build hip abductor strength and improve hip rotation and stability. Modified lunges can improve hip mobility and increase strength, while performing wide-stance lunges and rolling out your adductor muscles with a foam roller can help to lengthen your adductors.
Hamstring strains are very similar injuries to groin strains. Severity can range from a mild strain, requiring only a few days of rest to treat, to a complete rupture of the muscle which may take months to fully heal.
Hamstring injuries are common in activities that require explosive bursts of energy, such as sprinting and jumping. Athletes who have previously injured their hamstrings run a greater risk of doing so in the future and should take extra care to stretch and warm up prior to exercise.
Another way to ward off potential hamstring injuries is to increase the amount of time each day that you spend standing up. When your knees are bent the hamstrings slacken off, and your body will adapt to this position and can actually cause your hamstrings to grow shorter over time. The best way to offset the negative side effects of sitting all day is to regularly set aside time to stand up and move about.
Shin splints are one of the most commonly occurring injuries among runners. While experts disagree as to the specific cause of shin splints, they do agree that they can be caused by any number of factors in a running routine. New runners may experience them because they attempt too far too soon; experienced runners could experience them as a result of an abrupt shift in their distance, speed, or terrain.
One of the easiest ways to prevent shin splints are to stretch before and after running. Stretching your calves can reduce the strain on your shins by loosening up the calf muscles, reducing their inclination to pull at the front of your leg. Tracing the letters of the alphabet in the air with your toes will also stretch all of the little muscles in your calf, ankle, and shin.
Another way to avoid shin splints is to ensure that your running shoes are in adequate shape; if your shoes are worn thin from overuse, it’s probably time to get a new pair. Wearing the correct shoe for your running stride is also important.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is responsible for controlling the motion of your knee, and a tear in the ACL can be athletically debilitating, both at the time of injury and in future play. It is most often injured when performing activities that require rapid directional movement or jumping.
The best way to protect yourself from an ACL tear is to build strength in the surrounding muscles in your knee and legs. You could work with a personal trainer or physical therapist to build strength and stability, but the following general exercises are a good place to start:
Your hamstrings, quads, IT band, and calf muscles can all create tension in your ACL, so the best way to minimise the risk of an injury is to strengthen all of those muscles and to stretch regularly.
The bottom line: The secret to staying active and minimising the risk of injury is to warm up prior to activity, stretch regularly, and focus on building strength and stability pertinent to the muscle groups that you utilise most. These steps are important parts of any physical therapy program but are just as important to preventing injuries as they are to recovering from them.