Preventing sports injuries is possible; however, many athletes still experience them. Being injured can prevent athletes from performing at their best, and in some cases, they may be advised to not play at all. This can negatively impact both the physical and psychological well-being of the athlete and their team. This article will explore effective injury prevention strategies for high-impact sports.
Millions of athletes seek medical attention yearly for non-fatal injuries sustained while playing a sport.
There are many prevention strategies athletes can use to reduce their risk of injury.
Athletes need to recognize their limits to avoid over-exerting themselves, which increases their risk of injury.
Causes of sports injuries
In the United States, millions of people are seen annually in emergency departments for non-fatal sports injuries. Most athletes incur at least one injury in their athletic career. Olympic athletes sustain an average of one injury every 2.1 hours of competition. Sports injury results in an average of one to seven days of absence from competition and training.
Sports injuries occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- Improper or poor training practices
- Wearing improper sporting gear
- Poor health conditions
- Improper warm-ups or stretching before competition or training.
When athletes don't take measures to prevent injuries, it can result in a variety of injuries, such as:
- Achilles tendon injuries
- Sprains or strains
- Joint injuries
- Muscle injuries
- Shin splints
Tips to prevent sports injuries
Injury prevention strategies typically target modifiable risk factors, including rules, equipment, physical fitness, and sport-specific strategies. Athletes need to know their limits of physical fitness and range of motion to help prevent injury.
Athletes can engage in preventive measures like progressive training, protective equipment use, rest, and nutrition to reduce the risk of sports injury. Muscle injuries are common in sports and can result in reduced physical activity or immobilization.
Athletes should always warm up their bodies and do dynamic stretches before any activity. Stretching improves the ability of muscles to contract and perform, reducing the risk of injury. Cold muscles are more prone to injury. Before starting to play, do the following:
- Jumping jacks
- Butt kicks
- Arm circles
These simple exercises can warm up your muscles, making them less likely to suffer an injury during training or competition.
After training or competition, it is also crucial for athletes to cool down properly. This should take two times as long as the warm-ups.
Strengthen your core
An athlete's strong core is essential to improve balance and stability and prevent injury. The core muscles are utilized in almost all movements regardless of the sport. Abdominal crunches and planks are common exercises that can help strengthen the core.
Your core muscles are the stabilizing muscles. When they are strong, they form a natural girdle around your trunk that supports and protects your lumbar spine and helps hold you in the correct alignment. The core stabilizes the back, torso, shoulders, and hips. If the core is weak, it cannot stabilize the back, torso, and hips, so other muscle groups work harder. This can lead to injury in athletes.
Use proper technique
Athletes must use the proper techniques when they are training or in competition. Correct techniques allow you to balance your body weight without over-extending your arms, legs, or back. It also teaches you the proper footwork to avoid ankle and Achilles tendon injuries. This encompasses playing with the appropriate equipment for your size. If your equipment is too big or too small for you, it puts you at risk for injury.
Rest and recovery
Rest is essential for all athletes for multiple reasons. Going too long without a break can cause your muscles to become overused, increasing the chances of injury. When you sleep, it allows your heart to rest, and the cells in your body start repairing any damaged tissues.
Sleep helps retain and consolidate memories. For athletes, this allows them to remember new skills and contributes to improved athletic performance. If an athlete doesn't get enough sleep, the pathways in the brain that enable you to learn and make memories can't form or be maintained.
Inadequate rest slows your reaction time and lowers accuracy because sleep is essential for cognitive processing. This can negatively impact athletes if they don't sleep enough, making it more challenging to make decisions and adapt to new situations. People who are sleep-deprived are more likely to make poor decisions and take risks, which increases an athlete's risk of injury.
Evidence suggests that more or extended sleep benefits athletes, their recovery, and their performance. It is recommended for athletes to get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. There are strategies athletes can try to ensure they are getting enough quality sleep at night:
- Create an appropriate sleep environment
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine right before bed
- Stay away from electronics in the hours before bed
- Have a wind-down routine like reading or meditation
- Avoid overtraining
- Avoid training and competitions that are too late or too early
- Keep naps brief if you do nap
- Reduce stressors
Nutrition plays a crucial role in preventing sports injuries. It not only aids in recovery but also positively impacts an athlete's physical and psychological well-being, leading to better tissue healing. Certain nutrients such as amino acids, proteins, antioxidants, creatine, and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for preventing muscle loss and anabolic resistance while promoting injury healing.
Studies have shown that when athletes increase their protein intake, it prevents muscle loss and anabolic resistance to protein during immobilization if an injury does occur. Preventing muscle loss can help reduce the risk of injury.
Athletes who add creatine to their diets have shown improved strength, increased lean muscle mass, and quicker muscle recovery during exercise.
Research has shown that fish oil plays a significant role in preventing muscle loss. A study showed that physically active individuals who consumed 3900 mg of fish oil for four weeks had decreased muscle damage.
Antioxidants rich in vitamins C and E have been proven to increase the generation of reactive oxygen species after muscle injury, which helps with muscle and tissue repair.
Injuries to joints, tendons, and connective tissues are common among athletes. According to recent studies, taking collagen supplements, such as gelatin and vitamin C, can help support collagen synthesis, improving the structure of ligaments and tendons. Collagen also promotes the health of joints and connective tissues and can reduce joint pain.
It is also important for athletes to consume enough protein in their diets. It is recommended that athletes consume 0.8 g/kg of body mass of protein daily. Protein is needed for the growth and formation of new tissue. It helps repair muscle fibers that get damaged during exercise. When your body has the fuel it needs to repair itself from exercise, it can help prevent injury.
The playing surface for the athlete may also be a factor in preventing injuries. A study on American football and tennis players revealed that injury frequency is connected to the shoe-surface combination that determines frictional forces. The higher the frictional resistance, the higher the injury frequency.
Heal previous injuries
If you sustain an injury, it is important to fully rehabilitate before engaging in strenuous activity. Resuming physical activity before the injury is fully healed can increase the risk of re-injury or further damage.
Engaging in physical activity through sports can significantly benefit an athlete's overall health. However, injuries sustained during sports can have a negative impact on their life. Fortunately, there are several strategies that athletes can adopt to reduce their risk of injury.
- Nutrients. Nutritional Considerations for Injury Prevention and Recovery in Combat Sports.
- Sleep Foundation. Sleep, Athletic Performance, and Recovery.
- University of Rochester Medical Center. Preventing Sports Injuries.
- Sports Medicine. The influence of playing surfaces on the load on the locomotor system and on football and tennis injuries.
- Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. A Comprehensive Summary of Systematic Reviews on Sports Injury Prevention Strategies.