Physical therapy excels in both treating and preventing sports injuries. While we might more commonly think about injury prevention in relation to elite athletes it is equally important in recreational athletes. Our bodies are interconnected, this means that weakness or dysfunction in one region can create problems in another region or area of the body. The range of motion, weakness, muscle imbalance, movement patterns, and technique can all influence distant regions.
An individual can prevent injury in a variety of ways. One of the easiest places to start is by making sure your training schedule is appropriate. For example, when someone is progressing running duration or distance it is important to not increase by more than 10% per week. Additionally, when performing resistance training it is important to avoid working the same muscle groups two days in a row and for any type of exercise, appropriate rest days are necessary.
Establishing a safe and appropriate training plan can make a huge difference in injury prevention as well as the progression of activity.
Identifying areas of weakness or dysfunction can help by reducing strain and stress on the body. Think of a runner with weakness in their Achilles tendon who increases training too quickly. When this runner starts to experience pain they would likely have to decrease or stop training, or push through and risk further injury. A physical therapist could have helped the runner by identifying the weakness or imbalance which contributed to the initial pain and prescribed exercise to strengthen the Achilles as the running distance was safely progressed.
Education is a large part of physical therapy in both preventing and treating sports injuries. Athletes are generally highly motivated individuals and through education, athletes are empowered to take control of their injury. This is accomplished through the objectives previously discussed but also through expectation setting with regard to the progression of healing and what to expect at certain points in the healing process. By understanding the injury and the time it takes to heal, as well as what activities can be done at certain points in the healing process athletes are able to take back control over the injury that prevents them from participating in the sport they love.
The best thing an athlete can do to prevent injury is to be aware. By having a good understanding of safe training progression and how to avoid overtraining, participating in a safe cross-training exercise, and through taking note of pain or discomfort when it first begins, athletes can significantly reduce their chance of injury.
While not all traumatic or sudden injuries can be prevented, by being safe and smart, an athlete can reduce the likelihood of sports injuries.