Updated: Aug 15, 2021
Disclaimer: reading this blog will not make you immune to injury.
Injuries are an almost unavoidable part of life for the extremely active and completely inactive alike, along with everyone in between. A fortunate few will manage to navigate their time on earth with not even a niggle to report, but for the rest of us actual humans, we might want to consider some key factors to aid in injury prevention.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of injury: acute and chronic. Acute injuries are typically impact-based trauma events like sudden ligament sprains, tendon/muscle strains, bone fractures, joint dislocations or skin contusions. Chronic injuries occur over a longer period of time (usually weeks-months), when areas of the body are overused and/or underactive and can’t take any more – examples include shin splints, jumper’s knee and tendinopathy.
Both acute and chronic injuries are preventable, or at least their severity can be reduced by taking action to invest in our physical health. Physical therapy treatments, functional exercise, nutritional awareness and evolving our conscious thought and understanding of our own bodies over time, can support those of us who have had injuries and don’t want history to repeat itself, as well as those who haven’t experienced an injury before, and have no intention of starting anytime soon.
Physio, Sports Rehab and Sports Massage Therapy
Pre-habilitation (a healthcare term for preventing injury when related to activity and sport) and rehabilitation techniques can be appropriately employed by registered physiotherapists, sports rehabilitators and sports massage therapists. These techniques and prescriptions can include a detailed assessment of movement, which can diagnose overactive/overused or underactive/underused areas of the body which could lead to muscular imbalances and chronic pain. Deep tissue massage therapy can also be administered to release areas inaccessible through stretching or self-massage techniques like foam rolling.
Prehab and rehab exercise programmes may also be prescribed following assessment and physical treatment. This creates ongoing benefit from investing in physical therapies. Seeking professional support in your physical health, whether you are experiencing an injury or not, is a great way to enhance your understanding of your own body. Expert eyes and hands can see and feel things we may miss, even on and within ourselves. Never train in pain – be sure to seek injury treatment when your body is telling you something isn’t feeling right.
Remember in P.E. at school when teacher said you should warm-up before and cool down after exercise? They weren’t lying. Warm-ups should be treated as movement preparation for the activity you are about to undertake, and ready your mind and body for the upcoming intensity. Cool downs are a good way to stay active after the intense part of a workout, gradually bringing the breathing and heart rates back to normal, which helps prevent blood pooling and sudden drops in blood pressure. Post-exercise stretching can assist with muscle recovery by reducing muscular stiffness; returning muscles back to their pre-exercise length enables greater range of movement around joints and less opportunity for areas to seize up and strain.
When it comes to the main part of an exercise session, functionality is key. Functional training means movement that is intentionally transferable to another purpose. In other words, what you do in the gym will be used outside the gym. So a marathon runner running on a treadmill may not be the most functional, as the impact and surface won’t prepare the lower-limb musculature for outdoor running. Conditioning the legs for the high levels of impact by gradually increasing distance and pace outdoors would be a functional solution.
Back in the gym, performing single-leg exercises such as lunges, calf raises and glute bridges would increase functional strength, endurance and balance which will be massively beneficial in injury prevention terms for a long-distance runner. This is because the same muscle groups that are used for running are activated and strengthened in those movements. In addition, working unilaterally (single-sided) directly correlates to the running motion, which sees one leg lead at a time.
Exercise is fantastic, we would highly recommend. But, there is such a thing as too much of it. Whether it’s too much impact, weightlifting, stretching or anything else, your body can only take so much before it might break. Overtraining can lead to muscle breakdown from fatigue, or chronic tension and joint pain if ignored or left untreated. Our bodies adapt to training protocols during times of rest, not work. So if we do not give adequate opportunity for rest, not only do we run the risk of causing an injury, but we won’t even get the desired training outcome either.
Knowing how to perform, programme and progress exercise, and understanding how to workout effectively while preventing injuries, can take some time to grasp. Consult with a healthcare expert, physical therapist and/or qualified fitness professional to become familiar with best practice, as well as safe and efficient technique.
Knowing what and when to eat and drink can have a profound impact on our relationships to our bodies, and in turn, potential injuries.
Most simply, we eat to function. If we don’t eat in adequate quantities or quality, we won’t function to our potential, and could injure ourselves when engaged in activity by not being appropriately energised to perform specific tasks or move as efficiently as we could. Only you’ll know how long before exercise and activity you need to eat, and what type of food and drink keeps you going in quantities specific to you, your body type, and metabolism.
Amino acids are the units which make up proteins, and there are nine essential amino acids we need to obtain from the diet. Protein specifically aids in muscle growth and recovery. So our nutritional choices ought to account for this to ensure we get what we need from our diets. Additionally, recovery-boosting proteins such as collagen (high volumes of which can be found in bone broths) have been shown to aid in bone, ligament and tendon strength and repair. Supplementation for protein and other sources, is only advised when nutrients cannot to be obtained solely through the diet, or for those training with specific performance goals.
Understanding Our Own Minds and Bodies
Everything we’ve covered so far has one major thing in common: increasing our individual understanding of our bodies. We should listen to them and know when to seek out professional support such as massage therapy or a nutritionist. We should recognise if exercise isn’t relevant for what we want to achieve from it. We should identify what nutritional habits and choices work for us and our individual needs.
What’s more, injury prevention requires a good understanding of our minds too. Mentally, we have to be confident in performing physical tasks. Otherwise, going into them is more likely to result in something going wrong. Research has found that previously injured individuals are more likely to experience reinjury than uninjured individuals are to have a first-time injury. And this isn’t just down to the physical vulnerability of the affected area. Hesitation to perform actions (reinjury anxiety) like going into a tackle or putting weight on one side can result in further injury because the body isn’t being appropriately prepared. This is because the mind has a new perspective on a previously normal action.
To build resilience against the physical and mental effects of injuries, we should aim to ease back into activity in a structured and controlled fashion. This will increase confidence over time and cause less shock to our mental and physical systems. It should be noted though that equally, leaving things too long can make it physically and mentally tougher to return to specific movement, so ensure to talk to registered professionals, coaches, and your personal support circle to gauge a suitable timescale. Understanding what works for you and increasing your mental and physical self-awareness may be a very individual journey, but that doesn’t mean others can’t share and contribute to the experience.
Of course, you could do everything “right” and still end up with an injury. Accidents and incidents happen, and imbalances and inactivity eventually get exposed by time. Some things are just unavoidable or unpredictable, and we do accept risk when playing sport or just living our day-to-day lives. But we can control how we minimise that risk by being active, rather than reactive in our approach to injury prevention. So look to invest in your long-term physical health, because there is really nothing more worth spending time and money on than that.
MSE Sports & Remedial Massage Content Creator