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How to Avoid Injury in Sport

Whether you are an avid sportsperson, or just like to do the occasional sports activity every week, you can have an injury at any time.


I've loved sports all my life, and no matter what my level of fitness I have unfortunately succumbed to a lot of personal injury.


But what I have come to realise is that there are lots of things you can do to avoid injury in sports.


Below are some practical tips and strategies that can help you reduce injury.


Prevent injury by effectively warming up


Warming up is crucial before any physical activity. I know it can seem boring and you just want to get started on your sport, but it really does prepare your body for the demands of your sport and helps to prevent injuries.


Imagine going to play a tennis match.


You've just got out of your car, and onto the court. You go to serve, stretching your arm up and over your head in a movement that your body hasn't done for weeks. Your muscles are cold and stiff. Your brain and neural system isn't ready for that quick explosive movement. Your arm doesn't move as well as it could. Your reaction time is slow. Right now, there is a high chance you could get a muscle strain, ligament tear, joint injury or even a shoulder dislocation!


Doing a proper warm-up could avoid ALL of this.


Never skip a warm up. That's how you get injuries. Andrea Lucas, All Active Pilates & Physio, Hillsborough, Dromore, Lisburn


What does warming up do?


"Studies have shown that dynamic stretching is the key to enhancing performance, both in athletic events and recreational exercises. An analysis of 31 studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that “active warm-ups encompassing such exercises as sprints and plyometrics can enhance power and strength performance”." Static vs. Dynamic Stretching. West Virginia University

A warm-up helps increase blood flow through the body and quite literally "warms up" your muscles. Warm muscles mean more flexible muscles that are better able to contract and handle the strain and pulls of sport.


You are also prepping your cardiovascular system to start raising your heart rate to cope with the change in blood pressure. An increased heart rate means more oxygen going to your muscles, priming them for action. You are also increasing blood flow to your muscles which is also warming them up.


Your warm-up exercises are also mentally prepping your neural system and brain for the sport you are about to undertake.


A good warm-up is also going to enhance your joint mobility, you'll reduce the risk of strains and sprains.


How do you warm up effectively?


It used to be that static stretching exercises were recommended before exercise.


What is static stretching? Standing on the spot and stretching a muscle group for 60 seconds.


However. researchers found that only doing this long-form stretching was not as effective as short static stretching combined with dynamic stretches.


Dynamic stretching includes short cardiovascular exercises and controlled continuous stretching movements where your joints and muscles go through a full range of motion. These stretches can be functional and mimic the movements involved in the sport you are about to perform.


Examples of dynamic movement for warming up include:


  1. Ankle circles

  2. Arm circles

  3. Butt kicks

  4. Fast-paced walking

  5. High knees

  6. Hip circles

  7. Jogging on the spot

  8. Leg swings

  9. Short sprints

  10. Skipping

  11. Walking lunges

  12. Squats


Any type of dynamic movement will help reduce the risk of strains and sprains for you or your team.


Two women doing a dynamic stretch warm up to prevent injury.


How long should you warm-up for?


Don’t rush your warm-up.


If you lead a sports team, find a warm-up routine that works for you and your team. Most team sport warm-ups should require a longer warm-up (15- 30mins). This will usually involve drills as well as teamwork to prepare you for the game or match.


If you are doing a warm-up for yourself aim for at least 10 minutes.



Use the right equipment for your sports activity


Investing in and using the appropriate equipment for your chosen sport is a fundamental step in injury prevention.


If you can, invest in the right equipment for your sport.


Playing racket sports such as tennis, badminton, or squash requires using the appropriate racket. Choosing a racket with the right grip size, weight, and string tension can enhance control, power, and manoeuvrability, while also reducing the risk of shoulder, hand and wrist injuries


If you swim, goggles can actually help reduce neck and shoulder pain.


Using a proper bike with an appropriate frame size, handlebar position, and saddle height can significantly decrease strain on the knees, back, and shoulders. A BikeFit session can help you get your optimum bike position and prevent common pain and injury.


Additionally, wearing a well-fitted helmet, cycling gloves with padding, and using shock-absorbing pedals or seat posts can reduce the risk of head injuries, hand numbness, and shock-related discomfort while cycling on various terrains.



Woman swimming on her front. View from under water

Wear the correct footwear


Wearing suitable sports shoes that offer proper support, stability, and cushioning ensures optimal foot and ankle protection.


Shoes should be specific to the sport you are participating in, such as running shoes, basketball shoes, or football studs.


Even if you are walking, opt for a walking shoe as opposed to a running shoe. Walking shoes will have a much more flexible sole to allow you to have that heel-to-toe rolling movement. They will also have more cushioning for covering differing terrains.


Running shoes, however, are designed to absorb shock. They will have cushioning around where the foot is striking the ground. You've also got more lateral support for directional changes.


Investing in proper running shoes that offer adequate support, cushioning, stability, and shock absorption can help prevent injuries such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and ankle sprains.


Woman wearing leggings and red running sport shoes with an injured calf.

You can go to specialist running shoe stores where they will check how you strike the ground using a computer to see what shoe is best for you.


Be cautious about wearing fashion trainers that may not have the right biomechanics, soles or support. They may leave you at risk of injury.


With all sports shoes, always ensure they fit properly and go for functionality and comfort over style!



Build your core strength to avoid injury in sport



Core muscles refer to the deep muscles that support your trunk. They encompass your abdominals, back muscles, pelvic floor and hip muscles.


If you have a strong core, you will get better posture, stability and movement during sports activities.


Knowing how to engage your core before swinging that racket or taking that swimming stroke can help protect you from injury.


That increased body awareness of your core and using an active and engaged core will be invaluable to your sports performance.


Older woman doing a plank on a pilates mat to build core strength


Improve your flexibility


Doing a sport challenges our body to undertake movements we may not often be doing. Being flexible can help prevent sports-related injuries.


How does a lack of flexibility lead to injury?


Lack of flexibility can cause muscle imbalances. If you're relying on a certain side of your body during the day when it comes to exercising where you're suddenly using all your muscles you may put extra stress on your joints.


Stiff muscles also leads to straining in sport, so having good flexibility can protect against this. Flexible muscle fibres will also be able to stand the shocks and strains from sports.


Flexibility is also going to give you a better range of motion, and therefore a better stroke, serve, stride or take-off.


Is Pilates good for injury prevention?


Absolutely!


Pilates is great for preventing injury because it develops both your core strength and improves your flexibility. These are both crucial to prevent sports-related injuries.


Pilates and Reformer Pilates can not only give you that strong core but also teach you how to move better during sports activities.


Here are just some of the ways pilates can help reduce injury in sport:

  1. Pilates involves stretching various muscle groups will help increase your length, suppleness and overall flexibility.

  2. Pilates can improve your range of motion. With this increased motion you will be able to move better in your chosen sport.

  3. Pilates can also improve your posture which in turn reduces stress on your spine and joints when playing sports.

  4. Pilates can also teach you how to engage the right muscle groups to support your range of sports movements.

  5. Pilates will give you strength and improve bone density.

  6. Pilates exercises promote stability and balance by challenging the core muscles to work in a coordinated and controlled manner in various positions. The improved stability and balance acquired through Pilates can have a significant impact on sports performance, particularly in sports activities that require quick changes in direction, agility, and balance control.

Personally, I've found that Pilates is an incredible activity to help prevent sports injury. Not only that it can dramatically improve your sports performance too. It's why professional sports players and national teams are adding Pilates to their training regimes.


Why not make it part of your everyday fitness routine or sports club activities too?


Ready to find out how Pilates or Reformer Pilates can improve your sports performance? Book a class or get in contact with us.

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