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3 Simple Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Sports Injuries

istock_000004845744small-1The Problem
Youth, high school, college, and professional sports continue to rack up thousands of injuries each year. Despite advances in areas of sport such as equipment, coaching, and player safety guidelines, injury rates are not decreasing. In fact, many sport-related injuries have increased dramatically over the last decade, with a sharp rise in youth sport injuries as evident by some alarming statistics:
  • High school athletes account for an estimated 2 million injuries and 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year.
  • Overuse injuries are responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students.
  • Since 2000, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among youth baseball and softball players.
  • According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), more than half of all sports injuries in children are preventable.
With those numbers in mind, let's look at football injuries since they alone account for over 500,000 injuries per year, twice as much as any other sport. More than half of all football injuries are to the lower extremity and roughly 67% of all football injuries are sprains/strains. Several injuries occur at the joints, especially the shoulders and knees. Many of these often require surgery and potentially have career-ending and/or lifelong implications.

The Solution
While injury is an inherited risk of participation in sport, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of serious injury and to give athletes the best chance of a rapid and complete recovery when injuries do occur. Again, consider that more than half of sport-related injuries are deemed preventable. As with any health issue, prevention should be of primary importance. With that in mind, let's look at a few simple steps to reduced your risk of injury.

#1 - Movement Screening/Assessment
Many injuries are preventable with movement pre-screening that is designed to identify musculoskeletal asymmetries and weaknesses that are known to increase the risk of injury. Ideally, movement screening is performed before the season begins. These movement assessments are utilized by several professional and collegiate sports teams and are proving to be an asset in their ability to keep athletes healthy.

How?

They provide a starting point for implementing specific exercises and routines to bring structural balance back to the body. Don't make the assumption you or your young athlete is 'ready' for the season without any objective evidence that there is work they need to do. This is exactly why you will hear the advocates of movement screening say, "Assess, don't assume."

#2 - Intelligent Strength and Conditioning Program
Once your weaknesses and imbalances have been identified, it’s important that you find someone in your area who is capable of addressing them through intelligent programming.  If you’re injured, it’s more than likely that you have developed compensation in your movement that contributed to your injury. These compensation patterns are typically best handled with an appropriate combination of strength training and corrective exercise. The combination is key. Corrective exercise is not the only means of approaching imbalances in the body. Many people fail to appreciate that appropriately applied strength training has the ability to be corrective on its own.

Furthermore, if you are injured, finding someone who has a firm understanding of functional anatomy, how it relates to your injury, and how to train around your injury while still addressing your weaknesses can prove to be the difference in making a speedy recovery. After all, you don't just want to return to your sport, you should want to return better than you were before.

#3 - Appropriate In-Season Program
This point can't be stressed enough, as too many athletes tend to slack off during the season and don't place a priority on maintaining adequate strength, mobility, and neuromuscular control of their body. Basically, they don't pay as close attention to the little things as they did during the off-season. There can be any number of reasons for this, but if staying healthy is important, you must find the time. This becomes evident when you consider that 85% of non-contact ACL injuries occur mid-late season. Other sport-related injuries also have greater frequency of injury as the season progresses.

Appropriate in-season training is intended to provide lower volume and frequency of strength training while continuing to address injury prevention and recovery methods. To complement in-season training, services such as chiropractic and massage therapy can be implemented to restore structural balance and function to the body. This provides a solid template for keeping sport performance as high as possible throughout the season. Plus, athletes are able to enter the next off-season close to peak performance, rather than spending weeks or months returning to their previous form.

That's All Folks
Injuries are part of the nature of sport and, unfortunately, completely preventing injury is an unrealistic expectation. Despite that, the risk of injury should not be taken lightly by parents or athletes when the risk of serious injury can be greatly reduced by taking appropriate steps as outlined above.

For those of you in the Greater Pittsburgh area, this approach to keeping athletes healthy and performing at their best is available at Gallagher Performance. These services are not exclusive to athletes, but are available to all individuals who enjoy being active and wish to take a proactive approach to staying healthy.
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