In the arena of athletics, its a fact injuries will happen no matter what sport an athlete plays. Although injuries are commonplace there are many aspects to injuries that people misunderstand or unaware that exist. Having the right information about injuries can make the difference in an athlete having a long healthy career, a team having a successful season, or the opposite where the season is plagued with injuries and losses rack up due to subsequent injuries. It should be understood that just because injuries are a part of sport doesn’t make sports dangerous, it means it is important to know and understand what to do if an injury occurs or how to prevent them from happening.
When it comes to injuries there are 3 things that every athlete, coach, and parent should be aware of:
1.Most injuries can be prevented
As a healthcare professional and a fitness professional it can’t be stated enough that injury prevention should be a staple in any athletic program. Injury prevention has four major components:
Before a season starts two things should be done; 1.) Having a pre-participation physical and 2.) Getting some time of functional movement screen. The first is important as going to your primary care physician to get these done may not be enough. They mostly only check for hernia, blood pressure issues, vision, and test your reflexes. Athletes need a more thorough examination as they are a heavily active population who will encounter strains on the body the average person will not endure. This requires:
An Examination of Your Musculoskeletal System
Ensuring that an accurate history of injuries, both past and present, is documented plays a key role in prevention. This gives the coaching staff/sports medicine staff an idea of what athletes need to work on. Injuries to specific joints suggest targeting specific muscle groups. It will also lead to a deeper investigation of the joint(s) affected from an orthopedic standpoint. This information helps guide the creation of an appropriate treatment plan/injury prevention plan as opposed to doing nothing or creating a cookie cutter injury prevention program.
Gathering Pertinent Data On Heart Health
Some athletes may have an underlying congenital heart issue that may go undetected until it is too late. Certain questionnairs and history information can lead to an athlete getting further testing done before they are “cleared” for full participation. In some instances it can be discovered that they have certain strict limitations that could protect their future. Isaiah Austin is a prime example of this scenario, had he undergone the proper physical prior to getting drafted after playing at Baylor, his heart defect may have been discovered sooner and his dreams of playing in the NBA might have been fulfilled.
Gathering Data On Family History
While the athletes family doctor has the family history on file the athletic program should also have a file of certain conditions an athlete has. By getting the appropriate history certain issues like asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, or sickle cell can be managed while still being involved in sports. If certain issues are left undiagnosed or participating in a sport without monitoring an athlete could be struck with dire consequences without the pertinent information.
If the coaching/sports medicine staff of an athletic program is aware of certain allergies a person has they can be prepared in case of accidental exposure to an allergen. Without this knowledge the athlete could be exposed to an allergen and if the coaching /sports medicine staff doesn’t have something like an epi-pen on hand it could be lead to serious consequences for the athlete.
The second part of pre-participation examination consists of a movement screening. This involves a qualified professional watching and documenting an athlete perform a series of movement. Based upon the analysis of these movements a persons strengths and weaknesses can be determined. With this information, said professional can create a program that will correct the imbalances that an athlete has thus decreasing the likelihood of injury.By giving athletes the opportunity to have access to a quality pre-participation physical and appropriate movement screening you can decrease the likelihood of injury.
During the season the daily grind of practices will set in for most athletes. They will want to leave immediately after practice because of thousands of reasons. It is imperative that the strength and conditioning/injury prevention programs that have been put into place are done. When athletes begin to skip out on those sessions former gains/corrections are lost. This is the start of the break down that many teams see in the late season.
A secondary component that is often missed that can easily be monitored daily is hydration. By weighing athletes before and after practices you can find how much fluid is being lost daily. This information gives the coaching /sports medicine staff the ability to replaces the fluids lost. Without this information athletes may be overhydrating or underhydrating which both lead to injuries.
Late into the season is when most teams will see an accumulation of injuries. More often than not people believe this is a normal phenomenon because you have been through a long season and your body is worn down from a long year. This common misconception couldn’t be more wrong. This is where games are won and lost by; having the appropriate strength and conditioning program in place, having the appropriate injury prevention program and, lowering the demands of practice. As the seasons demand increase due to game intensity increasing, if a program has been consistent with their strength and conditioning, injury prevention program and the coaching staff has altered the demands of practice based on time of the year, a program can peak to greater heights than their opponents by implementing these tactics.
These two seasons are critical to the success of a program. Although they are often 6 months away from the regular season this is where games are won and lost. During this time of year these three things are a must:
- Nursing Old Injuries
When athletes take care of these old injuries/recent nagging injuries it disrupts the cycle of inflammation and begin the healing process. By taking this action an athlete can begin his/her following season of right.
- Taking Time Off/Active Rest
After the season is over it is important to take some time off but there is also a fine line between taking time off to rest and recover and taking time off. If an athlete takes too much time off between a season and off season conditioning they can spend the majority of their off season trying to regain original gains versus making new gains. On the flip side if they don’t take enough time off they could find themselves breaking down too early in the season.
- Knowing When to Start Your Off-Season Program
The off season program can be a subject of controversy as some would think it doesn’t matter when you start. However if a program is to be planned out it must be done according to when you season starts. If your pre-season practices start in September then your off-season needs to begin at the end of march/beginning of April. Athletes will essentially need about 5 months prior to their season to build a foundation, gain strength, gain strength/endurance, gain power, and implement that into sports specific movement. If the off-season program is not long enough it will be impossible to make all of those different types of gains. Many of those gains may be attempted to be made before a proper foundation has been established this is where you will see injuries happening during training.
2.Rest does not heal injuries
It is important to understand that sustaining an injuring does require a certain amount of rest whether its active rest or complete rest. Whats most important about understanding this is that rest does not heal the injury. Rest prevents further damage while time allows the tissue to heal. What is done during that time is what makes the difference. The athlete that rests, ices, uses compression, and elevates versus the athlete that moves, exercises, uses analgesics, and gets treatment from a healthcare professional will reduce the chance of re-injury by over 70% in most cases. The reason being that rest does not have the same benefits of movement, exercise, analgesics, and treatment. By utilizing these tactics the athlete:
Prevents Restrictions from Forming
If an athlete were only to use R.I.C.E. the athlete would now have restrictions that form because of swelling from the initial injury, scar tissue formation, and adhesion formation. With taking the approach to M.E.A.T. scar tissue and adhesions can be broken up to promote appropriate tissue elasticity. The proper fluid exchange within the tissues of the joint will allow nutrients to flow to all of the structures allowing the tissue to heal properly. Seeking treatment from a healthcare professional will also allow an athlete to get greater gains in motion because certain parts of joints can only be stretched by a qualified individual.
Addresses Secondary Damage
After sustaining an injury there is always the likelihood that there has been secondary or even tertiary damage to adjacent structures. By getting the appropriate treatment the secondary/tertiary damage will ultimately be discovered unlike the absence of treatment where it would not be noticed or treated. By finding and discovering the other issues they will be treated leading to a healthier joint and placing less strain on healthy tissue that was not damaged during the injury
Prevents Poor Nervous System Hardwiring
When an injury occurs the motion at that joint changes due to trying to avoid pain. This is why people limp or hold their shoulder a certain way when lifting an object. These nerve impulses can become hardwired into the nervous system creating dysfunction post injury. By eliminating/ limiting or even correcting these poor movement patterns it will lead to the athlete reducing injury/increasing performance.
Quicker Recovery Time
Athletes don’t have the luxury of time like the average person. If the athlete makes the choice to use an approach like M.E.A.T. they can cut their recovery time down. This is done by decreasing pain, decreasing swelling, increasing ROM, and increasing tissue strength/endurance. If all of these things are done before the athlete returns to full participation or play all together they can be as close to 100% much sooner than only resting.
3. Nobody gets hurt on purpose
I’d like to make it clear that every athlete wants to play, nobody wants to sit on the sidelines and watch their teammates play without them. When an injury occurs, why is it that an athlete is suddenly treated as if they chose to get hurt and no longer want to play a sport they love? There is honestly no good answer for this. Athletes who sustain an injury are ostracized, called “babies” or “soft”, and treated differently as if the countless hours they have invested in the same sport as their fellow teammates, for their coaches, and to make their parents proud just flew out the window. Interestingly enough the actions and remarks made toward athletes that are injured look, smell, and feel exactly like that that of bullying. Athletes constantly receive pressure or get teased on how long they’ve been out/when and if they will return to playing. Even if to you it is just innocent ribbing it affects the athlete. The athlete is left with the options of;
A.)Being honest about how their injury feels, get the proper treatment, and return to play when they feel adequately prepared.
B.)Lie about their pain levels, go without treatment/discontinue treatment, and return to play too soon.
One of those options leads to a healthy season, a healthy psychological value of self, and a successful season. While the other leads to re-injury, lowered self-esteem/self worth, and in some cases because of those things a loss of interest in the team sport all together.
As a teammate, coach, or parent it is important to understand that sitting out is the last thing an athlete wants to do, just as much as being in pain is the last thing they want to be in. By adding insult to an injury it only makes them feel worse for being hurt. Take the time to listen if an athlete says something hurts. This doesn’t mean every little tiny thing requires grand attention, but in the back of your mind it should register that pain is not a “normal” thing, it is the bodies way of saying that something is wrong or that something is being done wrong to it. Here are a few things to consider if your teammate, athlete, or child says that something hurts;
Don’t be dismissive: The athlete has worked up the nerve to communicate with you that something is bothering them. By dismissing them you are taking away an outlet for them to tell someone they are in pain. This is a form of trust that is difficult to get back once it is lost as the athlete will experience a sense of shame by reporting an injury. Instead of helping them you have actually now become a roadblock/barrier to them receiving treatment for their injury.
Don’t be judgemental: If a teammate, athlete, or your child comes to you with an injury, dont judge them. They are coming to you with a problem, a problem that is outside of your expertise to evaluate, so listen. It is not for you to say how bad the injury is or not. Pain is a very subjective thing that is extremely misunderstood and eperience differently by everyone. All that can be done is asked if they can participate or not and if not, go see someone who is qualified to evaluate them.
Don’t be a cancer: Whether it is a teammate or coach, if your teammate/athlete reports an injury to you it des not benefit them to belittle their injury or talk negatively behind their back to the team or staff regarding the injury. This type of negativity is contagious. It gives off the impression that the athlete is “faking”, that the athletes will be treated differently if they speak up, and these types of behaviors are okay for others to do. This creates a cancerous culture within a program. Instead of the athletes and coaching staff taking a proactive approach to ensuring that all of the athletes are at a certain level of preparedness physically and the idea of reporting/treating injuries as a natural part of being “ready to go” it becomes seen as weakness and a distraction. This gives way to mindset that injuries, most importantly, the injured person as being “in the way” of the success of a program.
Be flexible: Injuries are unexpected they occur without warning so when it comes to team chemistry and practice plans they can be a little jarring. With that being said, sometimes you have to adjust to the disruptions that come along. If this means that you have to change your lineup, do it. If you have to adjust what you do in practice to keep everyone involved, so be it.
Be involved: When an athlete is doing everything in their power to stay in the game or get back to playing its not an easy task. Take the time to acknowledge their contribution to the program by doing what they can to stay healthy or get healthy.
Be a leader: As a teammate, encourage your teammates that they need to take care of their bodies to help contribute to the team and when they don’t do that it only hurts the team too. As a coach if it is clearly expressed to your athletes that is an expectation to inform them about injuries, they seek treatment for injuries accordingly, and that you will do what is required from a practice plan standpoint to keep them in the game or get back into the game, it makes it easier for an athlete to stay healthy.
As a teammate, coach, or parent it is only fair to give your teammate,athlete, or child a shot to succeed in sports. If and when they sustain an injury it’s unfortunate, that is all that it is. It is not their fault, they have not become invisible, and they are not being a burden. Help them do whatever they can to get back to the sport that they love even if its just a kind word of encouragement. Most importantly encourage them take care of the injury the right way, not by sitting out or icing, but treating it. Injuries happen, all that can be done is be prepared and adjust when they do come along.