Sports Injury Prevention with Physical Therapy
Posted June 30, 2021
Sports are great. Nothing quite beats a relaxing round of golf on a beautiful summer day or a friendly game of pickup basketball with some friends. Whether they’re an important part of your daily routine or just a weekend hobby, sports of all kinds are beloved by millions because they are a fun way to stay in shape and burn a few extra calories.
So, what’s the catch? Injuries. Unfortunately, as great as sports are, sports injuries appear to be an inevitable part of the game, regardless of your competition level.
What are the Most Common Sports Injuries?
Sprains and Strains
While they are commonly mistaken for each other, the two injuries affect different parts of the body. Sprains occur when ligaments (the tissue that connects two bones in a joint) are damaged. Sprains are caused when ligaments are overstretched or torn. Strains, on the other hand, occur when muscles or tendons (thick, fibrous cords of tissue that connect bone to muscle) are damaged. Strains are caused by the overstretching or tearing of muscles or tendons.
Around 55% of all sports injuries involve damage to the knee or the ligaments and tendons within it. Tendonitis is a common issue affecting the knee and results from tendons in the knee being overused. Severe knee injuries, like anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) tears, occur due to ligaments in the knee being overstretched.
Another trouble-causing joint is the elbow. Conditions like tennis and golf elbow are common injuries that can cause the athlete to feel excruciating pain. The condition is caused by repetitive motion of the elbow, usually while playing golf or tennis. The overuse causes tendons in the elbow, like the epicondyle, to become inflamed.
The most common injury to the ankle is an ankle sprain. Like any sprain, an ankle sprain occurs when ligaments in the ankle are overstretched or torn. Unfortunately, without proper medical attention, athletes are at a greater risk of re-injuring their ankle after each sprain.
Concussions are a form of traumatic brain trauma that occurs when the brain is rattled against the inside of the skull, usually after a blow to the head. Concussions can be a scary injury that can have life-threatening consequences if not quickly evaluated and treated. Like many other injuries, after an athlete receives their first concussion, they become more likely to receive another.
Just about every athlete has experienced at least one of these sports injuries at some point in their playing careers. Still, despite seeming unavoidable, many professional athletes are somehow able to avoid these serious injuries. NBA superstar LeBron James, for example, has played in almost 95% of all his game throughout his 18-year career. How do athletes like LeBron do this? Through physical therapy and sports injury recovery. In fact, LeBron James finds physical therapy and recovery so important to his success that he spends more than $1 million on it every year.
Obviously, most of us aren’t competing in a professional sports league (or have a million dollars to spend). However, even just an occasional visit to your physical therapist can play a pivotal role in helping athletes prevent serious sports injuries, regardless of your competition level.
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Injuries that never happened are always the quickest to recover from. Taking immediate action on a slight irritation can be the difference between a few visits to your physical therapist and expensive surgery. Many athletes who have suffered devastating injuries can often recall their injury beginning as a minor issue that later developed into a serious problem. Had these athletes received proper medical attention earlier, their injuries could have been prevented. Prevention starts with your physical therapist creating a customized strategy that recognizes and improves the areas of your musculoskeletal system that are most at-risk.
Unfortunately, increased flexibility isn’t enough to prevent sports injuries alone. While the ability to extend and contract your muscles is vital towards sports injury prevention, the ability to control those moving muscles is just as important. That’s where mobility comes into play. Improving your mobility means increasing the range of motion in your tendons, ligaments, and joints. Lack of mobility leads to an increased chance of sports injury because it prevents tendons, ligaments, and joints from achieving their full range of motion.
Improved mobility can decrease sports injuries by allowing ligaments and tendons to extend to extraordinary lengths without being damaged. Mobility also allows your joints to move further without stretching muscles. Improving our mobility only becomes more important as we age. Our tendons, ligaments, and joints naturally weaken as we grow older and begin to deteriorate at around 30-years-old. For those of us who still play after college, mobility may be the key to prolonging our athletic careers.
Methods to Improve Mobility
Similarly to flexibility exercises, most mobility exercises can be done at home and with almost no equipment. Mobility exercises can also be worked into just about every workout routine. While performing these exercises, keep in mind that you won’t be feeling the same intense sensation you experience during a muscle stretch, but you are still decreasing your risk of suffering a sports injury.
Ankle Mobility Exercise:
This exercise increases the mobility of the ankle joint and improves balance, and reduces the risk of ankle sprains.
- Stand a couple of feet from a wall and put both hands flat on the wall.
- While facing the wall, put one foot forward and bring the other back while keeping about a foot between your front foot and the wall
- Slowly rock your weight onto the toes of your front foot while also keeping your front foot’s heel flat on the ground. Hold this for about 5 seconds.
- Return to your starting positions and repeat on both feet multiple times.
Walking Hip Openers
Walking hip openers rotate the ball and socket that moves the whole leg. The hip joint is used in almost every sport, and this exercise will increase mobility in the joint.
- Stand straight up with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lift your right knee to your chest and grab your knee with your right hand.
- Pull the knee to the right as far as you can, then slide your knee back down to the starting point.
- Repeat on the left side and continue to alternate sides until each side has repeated the exercise 15 times.
The shoulder pass-through uses a broomstick or anything similar in size and shape to improve mobility in the shoulders.
- Start standing straight up. Hold the broomstick with an overhand grip and bring it above your head and parallel to the ground.
- Without bending your elbows, slowly bring the broomstick behind your head and hold for about eight seconds.
- Bring the broomstick back to the starting positions and repeat eight times. Widen or narrow your grip to increase or decrease difficulty.
Sports injury got you down?
Specific strength-building exercises can have tremendous benefits to all aspects of your game. Stronger muscles offer ligaments, joint, and tendons more protection against overstretching and tears. Strength training can help the muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments hold up against external forces that push the body in unnatural ways. Furthermore, the risk of injuries like concussions can be significantly reduced by training the muscles around the neck. Like flexibility, increased strength can also give you a competitive edge over your opponent.
Strength Building Exercises
When strength training, most people think it’s only used to improve physical performance and appearance. However, this isn’t always the case. Some exercises are great for sports injury prevention and can also build muscle in the process.
Here are some at-home exercises that can help prevent injuries:
Lateral Band Shuffle: This movement builds strength in the abductor muscles, which help protect the hip joint. The abductor muscles can also help keep the knees aligned during activity
Forearm Planks: The forearm plank is a great exercise to build core strength. A strong core is essential for protecting the joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the back
Farmer’s Carry: The farmer’s carry is a very simple movement. It consists of holding a dumbbell (or anything heavy) in each hand and then simply walking around. It works about every major muscle in the body and can be great for sports injury prevention by preparing your muscles for the physical stress of sports.