Too often an athlete’s season is ended or hindered by injury that could have been prevented. It is not only the responsibility of the coach and athletic trainer to prevent injury, but the athlete’s as well.
There are certain steps that can aid an athlete in lowering their chance of injury.
A Safe Environment with Proper Equipment and Gear
Weather, playing surface, temperature, and clothing type can all affect the health and performance of an athlete. Be aware that when playing in high temperatures the body cannot sustain a lower temperature, which easily leads to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Be sure that where practice or play happen, the grounds are clean and well-kept to avoid any accidents. When the weather is cold or hot, the athlete must dress appropriately in order to avoid letting their body become too cold or hot. It really does matter what you wear. Be sure that all gear fits properly and is up-to-date in performing its function. Shoes are extremely important to preventing all sorts of injury. Be sure to buy shoes that are specific to your sport. The appropriate shoes should not be worn out and old. Shoes should fit properly in both the length and width, should form to your foot and help correct any defects, and should give the proper support.
Nutrition & Medication
A well-balanced diet is the best way to have the fuel necessary to compete at a high level. If the body does not receive enough vitamins and nutrients from a balanced diet, then supplements can help. When the body does not receive enough of what it needs, a breakdown in the muscles can happen, which leads to muscle soreness and cramping. Do not overdo it with supplementation though. What the body does not need it will dispose of. Talk to your medical provider about proper supplementation, and always consult your physician before taking any over-the-counter or prescriptive drugs. Medications have a wide variety of side effects that dramatically affect the athlete, such as decreased coordination, increased body temperature, or increased dehydration. Be aware that medications are needed in certain situations, such as asthma.
The importance of water replacement cannot be stressed enough in injury prevention. An athlete should always be well hydrated throughout the day. When the body lacks in water it cannot perform properly. This may lead to muscular problems, headaches, heat disorders, or dehydration. Gatorade and/or PowerAde can also help hydrate the body while supplying the proper minerals needed for exercise.
It is essential that the athlete maintain a consistently high level of fitness during the pre-season, the competitive season, and the off-season. A consistently high fitness level not only helps prevents injury, but increases the performance standard of the athlete year-round. As a general rule, you should always increase conditioning training gradually to avoid injury.
Establishing a balance between your strength, flexibility, biomechanics, and training is the key to success in any sporting activity, as well as the path to injury prevention. Biomechanics refers to how the motion of our bones come together to create a movement pattern. Our bodies are designed to move dynamically in many different planes, but these movement patterns need to be developed at a young age to ensure proper functional development. This will lead to proper stability and muscle patterns to help prevent injuries.
Strength and Flexibility
The strength of our muscles, coupled with adequate flexibility, allows us to produce the motion or action we desire. If one area is weak, another part may try to do too much, resulting in an overuse syndrome. Likewise, if any muscles are too tight, the body will compensate and try to find another way to create the motion it wants, again leading to tissue break down.
Following a training plan with gradual increases in intensity is very important. Pushing your body too hard, too far, or too fast may backfire and lead to injuries. Your muscles and cardiovascular system will increase their level of condition as you moderately increase the load.
Warm-up & Stretch
The body must be prepared before it can perform. Cold muscles will turn into hurt muscles. Always begin each activity with a proper, 15-30 minute warm-up that incorporates stretching and dynamic movements. Without a warm-up the body is at high risk for injury, and the performance level of the athlete will decrease. Always end with a cool down and a stretch to decrease muscle soreness. Remember, muscle soreness is not an injury and can be reduced with a proper warm-up, cool down, and stretch.
Dynamic Warm UpIncorporate dynamic movements into your Warm Up
The body will not heal unless it is given time to rest. Rest is a time for healing and systemic recovery. Your body will use this stage to restore glycogen while rebuilding and strengthening the body in response to the stresses of working out. A lack of rest and recovery can lead to over training and increase the risk for injury. Educating our kids to manage recovery by going to bed on time will help them prepare for competition. Encourage them to go to sleep earlier or to take a “rest day” from training. Not enough sleep can lead to injuries because of weakness, less coordination, and less emotional motivation. Proper rest and sleep will help refill their energy storage and prepare them for the next activity!
Get Informed & Build Your Medical Team
Invest the time to get informed about proper injury prevention strategies and actively incorporate these into your routines to keep your athlete healthy. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially true with respect to youth athletic injuries. If an injury does occur, we recommend you seek medical advice right away. Data shows that acuity matters, and the sooner you receive proper medical care, the sooner your athlete can return to sport. Having the right medical providers on your team will provide you peace of mind when confronted with the stressful situation of dealing with an injured child. We recommend you develop your medical team before an injury occurs, and having a physical therapist that you know and trust on your medical team is important.