Sports injuries can be incredibly frustrating. A painful shoulder can end a day of frisbee in the park. A torn ACL can end a whole season. While no activity is without inherent risk, there are many research-backed methods to prevent injury that are within your control.
Before we get to what you can control, let’s review the things you probably can’t change:
What’s not in your control.
Gender and Hormones
When estrogen levels are higher, typically around ovulation, the ligaments may be looser and offer less protection against sports injuries.
“[Estrogen and Progesterone] and their fluctuations may subtly alter the efficiency with which the neurons communicate with the muscles, ligaments and other tissues that make the body move,” explained Dr. Lynn Rogers, director of the Neuralplasticity Laboratory at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Dr. Rogers says insurance records related to ACL surgeries are consistent with this—women are more likely to injure their ACL during the first half of their menstrual cycle and especially when they are approaching ovulation.
“It is not unreasonable for female athletes, coaches and trainers in sports that involve jumping, cutting and other sudden movements known to stress knees to take into account a woman’s menstrual cycle,” she stated.
Did you know your genetics may partially determine your susceptibility for musculoskeletal injuries, such as fractures and tendinopathy?
This month, Arivale is launching the first part of an Exercise genetic profile, using multiple genetic variants to calculate predisposition for certain kinds of injury.
You can explore your genetic predisposition for tendon and ligament injuries—like Achilles tendinopathy or ACL rupture, as well as your genetic predisposition for fractures. Specifically for fractures, we look at the COL1A1 gene, which has been shown to affect how calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals are added to the bones. Without adequate amounts of these minerals, your bones weaken and can become predisposed to fractures.
Knowing your genetic predisposition to musculoskeletal injuries can help you identify which injury prevention and prehabilitation strategies you should implement to keep yourself healthy and moving. If you’re an Arivale Pioneer, talk to your Coach for ideas.
What is in your control.
Many injuries are caused by tightness and inflexibility in muscle areas. For example, many lower back injuries can be caused by tight hamstrings or hip flexors.
Exercise scientists generally no longer recommend static stretching before exercise. It is best to perform an active warm up of cardiovascular activity done at light to moderate intensity for five to ten minutes. Follow the warm-up with dynamic stretching, meaning stretching that incorporates movements that will be performed in the workout (i.e. arm circles before a swim workout).
To maintain or restore a normal range of motion, it’s best to always stretch after exercise—when your muscles are warm and pliable. Regular, moderate stretching helps lengthen your muscles and ward off injuries caused by muscle tightness. Even if you’re not regularly exercising, it’s important to stretch two to three times per week. If you’re an Arivale Pioneer, talk to your Arivale Coach about developing a flexibility plan that makes sense for your level of activity and your genetic predisposition.
It’s also worth noting that it’s important to keep your stretching within reason. Current scientific evidence warns increasing flexibility beyond a normal range can actually worsen your risk of injury.
Investing in Quality Footwear
While there’s no shortage of controversy around which type of running shoe is the best for injury prevention, experts agree that running or walking shoes should be replaced regularly. In general, it’s a good idea to replace your shoes every 300-400 miles or three to five months, if you’re averaging 20+ miles a week.
Think of it as getting the oil changed in your car. It’s a pain, it’s expensive, but it’s vital to keep the car running well. Wearing shoes past their prime, even if they still look fine on the outside, can increase your risk of injury—as they will have lost much of their support and cushioning.
On a similar note, it’s important to wear shoes that are right for the job at hand. Running shoes are often lightweight and don’t offer a lot of lateral support, which can increase your risk of injury if you’re using them for activities with a lot of lateral motion—like dance or tennis.
Fueling your body properly isn’t going to keep you safe from a bad fall, but it can help keep your body strong to aid in recovery time if you do suffer from a sports injury.
Everybody should be getting adequate servings of carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, and fluids to ward off exercise-related fatigue and prevent conditions like iron deficiency and low bone mineral density. (The National Collegiate Athletics Association estimates that 60 percent of female college athletes are iron deficient.) For optimal wellness, choose whole foods that provide fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients, rather than more processed foods high in sugar, such as protein and energy bars, protein powders, and energy drinks.
We often think of a strong core as synonymous with a six pack. In truth, your core is made up of dozens of muscle groups working together to keep you moving, protect your spine, and prevent injuries. Even people without visible six packs can have very strong cores.
Shoulder, back, IT band, and knee issues can all be tied back to a weak core. To strengthen your core, it’s important to focus on the smaller muscles as much as the bigger muscles. For this reason, hundreds of crunches can often do more harm than good, as they ignore the smaller, deeper muscles which are crucial for connecting vertebrae joint to joint. A well-rounded circuit of core exercises—focusing on both the front and back of the core—can help build and maintain strength.
The FITTE Model
Ready to get sweaty? FITTE stands for frequency, intensity, type, time (duration), and enjoyment. You can control each of these in your exercise program to reduce your chance of injury and have more fun exercising.
Frequency is how often you exercise. Include at least one rest day in your weekly routine to prevent over-training and help with recovery from exercise. Consider scheduling higher intensity exercise sessions a couple of days apart. You could also alternate high-intensity days with days of lower intensity exercises like Pilates, yoga, slow swimming, or walking.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the type of activity you choose may increase or decrease your injury risk. Playing competitive tackle football might put you at higher risk of injury than walking your dog. As part of a well-rounded exercise program, it’s important to vary the type of exercise you do. Talk with your Arivale Coach about incorporating cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility exercises into your routine.
As you progress in your exercise program, slowly increase the time spent in each exercise session and total weekly activity time to prevent injury. Ask your Arivale Coach about how to increase the time and intensity of your exercise to continue to make progress safely.
Finally, choose activities that you enjoy. The best exercise for you is one that you enjoy and will do regularly.
Much of injury prevention is within your control. If you’re an Arivale Pioneer, talk with your Arivale Coach to develop a well-balanced exercise plan that supports your wellness goals with strength, flexibility, cardiovascular exercise, and injury prevention strategies.
How do you take care of yourself when exercising?