Prevention of injury:

Most coaches tell their athletes to stretch before they go out and play. However, the word stretch has different meanings. If you are stretching and holding the position for a certain length of time, you are performing static stretching. An example is when you bend down and touch your toes. If you are lunging, doing “high knees,” or “heel kickers”, you are performing dynamic stretching. This occurs when you are performing functionally based stretching that is sports specific [6]. The current literature now suggests that athletes should decrease the time spent static stretching and increase the amount the stretch dynamically. This means less bending down and touching your toes for 30 seconds right before competition. A good example of why dynamic flexibility is more important than static stretching is the example of a football punter. Often, this athlete has static hamstring flexibility that allows him to touch the front of his knee to his face. If, however, you told him to stand and kick his leg straight as high as he could, he most likely will not get even close to that amount of flexibility. The latter is testing his dynamic flexibility. Because football punting requires an explosive leg kick into a hamstring-stretched position, having a significant amount of dynamic hamstring flexibility will help him reduce risk of a hamstring injury.

A recent study further emphasized the importance of dynamic, neuromuscular warm ups. It reported that the incidence of lower extremity injuries, acute-onset noncontact LE injuries, noncontact ankle sprains, and lower extremity injuries treated surgically was significantly lower in female high school basketball and soccer players who performed a dynamic neuromuscular warm up [7].

Before you stop all static stretching, know that stretching is extremely important to high-level athletes. Increasing the length of your muscle means that you can get more power. It is suggested that you should perform static stretching 2 hours prior to your competition and dynamically warm up right before your game. After the game, it is also important to slowly cool down with light-aerobic activity. Static stretching is also an effective cool-down activity. Researchers have reported, however, that static stretching after the game could lead to injury in the future if performed excessively or if small muscle tearsoccurred during the game which static stretching could exacerbate. Bottom line: stretch a couple hours before your game. Warm up using dynamic stretching and cool down using light aerobic activity to help reduce risk of injury.

Rehabbing and Preventing Sports Injuries:

It is important when you do have injury to treat it immediately. This is exactly why all professional teams have a well-staffed rehab team and equipment to treat injuries before, during, and after games. If you are injured, the most appropriate professional to see first is a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Physical Therapists are practitioners who focus exclusively with the musculoskeletal system. They have extensive knowledge of the inflammatory process, healing times for injured tissue, and proper training to heal your ailment while preventing other injuries in the future. A good therapist will educate you about specific modalities (heat pack, ice, etc) and exercises to get you back on the field and functioning at a high level.

References:

[1] Carter E, Westerman B, Hunting K. (2011) Risk of injury in basketball, football, and soccer players, ages 15 years and older 2003-2007. Journal of Athletic Training. 46(5):484-488.
 [2] Shanley E, Rauh M, Michener L, Ellenbecker T. (2011) Incidence of injuries in high school softball and baseball players. Journal of Athletic Training. 46(6):648-654.
 [3] Barrett J,Tanji J, Drake C, Fuller D, Kawasaki R, Fenton R. (2011) High versus low-top shoes for the prevention of ankle sprains in basketball players. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 21(4):582-585.
[4] Frey C, Feder KS, Sleignt J. (2010) Prophylactic ankle brace use in high school volleyball players: a prospective study. Ankle and Foot International. 31(4):296-300.
 [5] Pietrosimone B, Grindstaff T, Lines S, Uczekaj E, Hertel J. (2008) A systemic review of prophylactic braces in the prevention of knee ligament injuries in collegiate football players. Journal of Athletic Training. 43(4):409-415.
 [6] Baechle T, Earle R, eds. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 3rd ed. Illinois: Human Kinematics; 2008.
 [7] LaBella C, Huxford M, Grissom J, Kim K, Peng J, Christoffel K. (2011) Effect of neuromuscular warm-up on injuries in female soccer and basketball athletes in urban public high schools. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 165(11):1033-1040.