It doesn’t matter what sport or activity that you do, at some point you may suffer an injury. Prepare ahead and be ready for When Injury Strikes!
Undertaking regular exercise has undoubted, positive, life-changing health benefits. However, regardless of how active or fit we are, people who exercise do inevitably run the risk of injury.
The majority of injuries that do occur with exercise and activity tend to be musculoskeletal in nature. By musculoskeletal we mean injuries involving the bones, joints muscles and connective tissue (for example sprains, strains, fractures and dislocations to name a few).
This post aims to look at some of the factors that increase our chances of injury as well as some of the more common musculoskeletal injuries that can occur with exercise.
Factors that contribute towards Injury
Factors that can increase the likelihood of you having a sports injury include your age, level of activity, weight, equipment used and technique.
With regards to age, older people’s bones and joints have a higher chance of injury due to conditions related to the ageing process such as osteoporosis (bone thinning that occurs with age). Furthermore, if the bones are not being regularly exercised, bone atrophy (bone disintegration) can occur (if you don’t use it you lose it).
Prepubescent children also are at higher risk of injury through exercise, due to the fact that their bones and joints are still forming and haven’t developed properly. This is why weight training is a big no-no for younger populations as their joints are not stable enough to support heavy weights. Additionally since bones are quite malleable in growing children the potential for bone malformation from resistance training stress is quite high.
A persons bodyweight can also have a dramatic impact on the risk of injury. If you are overweight there is greater stress on your joints during exercise. Starting out exercising when you are overweight you should therefore look at low impact exercises until you have managed to drop weight.
After there has been a decrease in weight you can begin to throw into your routines some higher impact exercises. These exercises can be gradually increased as your strength and fitness levels increase exponentially.
Level of activity
If you are more active generally and keep mobile and flexible joints then you are far less likely to have an injury than a person who has been inactive for several years. If you have been inactive it is important to start slowly and not overdo workouts in a bid to reach your goals. Your body will need time to get used to the new stresses you are imposing on it.
It is a delicate balance, the more exercise you do, the more you strengthen your body and stave off injury. However the flip side is the more stresses (increased weight/longer runs) you impose on your body the more likely you are to develop some type of injury. Getting the balance right with gradual increments and not overdoing it is key. Push yourself for improvement but don’t pound yourself into the ground.
Thankfully the average exercise regime for fitness is far less likely to cause injury than say undertaking a competitive sport (such as football or rugby). So if you don’t play competitively your risk drops down somewhat. However if you do play competitive contact sports there are many factors that increase the possibility of injury.
Examples of these factors include rapid acceleration and deceleration associated with speed bursts, sudden direction changes and abrupt deceleration in speed associated with impact with another opponent. The higher the level of competition the higher the chances of injury. Conditioning and strengthening can improve your chances of remaining injury free but they are no means a guarantee.
Warming up and Cooling down
Other factors that may increase the likelihood of being injured include not warming up or cooling down properly. The bones, joints and muscles need time to ‘fire up’ prior to any intense form of exercise. If you jump straight into an exercise without being properly warmed up this can be disastrous.
Take your time with thorough mobilisation drills and effective warm ups and this will drastically reduce the potential for injury. Proper warm ups and cool downs go double for people new or getting back into exercise. Your body needs time to make adaptations, so allow it this time! You will make much faster progress and your body will thank you for it in time.
Equipment and Technique
Lastly we shall mention equipment used for exercise as well as technique. If you are using old equipment that is not very well maintained, naturally there is a higher potential for injury than using newer, well maintained equipment. Same with worn or inadequate running shoes, where you end up potentially doing more harm than good. Be wary of this and if in doubt, don’t use it, safer to wait till you can afford new equipment than put yourself at risk.
With regards to technique the same rules apply, if in doubt then don’t do it! Whether its correct weight lifting technique or running form, do your homework, learn to move effectively, efficiently and with correct form. Reduce the risks!
Taking all of the above into account, it would make you wonder why you should bother training at all right? 😀 Do note that those that do exercise have far greater reduction in the possibility of later life arthritis, osteoporosis and overall disability. Regular exercise makes the bones and muscles grow much stronger, reducing the chances of fractures and minor injuries. The risk vs benefit ratio is firmly in the benefit corner when it comes to exercising. It’s just a case of knowing and reducing the risks.
Know your enemy. Common sports injuries
Different activities injuries produce different symptoms and complications. So here are some of the minor injuries that you may encounter.
A sprain is an Injury to ligament/s. A ligament is the fibrous connective tissues that connect two bones to each another within a joint. This type of injury comes in degrees. 1st degree sprain – generally pain and swelling around the joint. 2nd degree sprain – discolouration of the affected joint and some weakness. 3rd degree sprain – Many or all of the fibres in the affected ligament are torn, with more weakness and less mobility.
A sprain is an injury to muscle/s or tendon/s. A tendon is the fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones. Like sprains (above) strains also come in 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree varieties. The mechanism of injury for strains is usually the result of poor movement that results in increased stress on the tendon or muscle involved in the movement. As a result the fibres end up overstretched or torn.
Tendinitis is the inflammation of a tendon. This type of injury is generally caused by overuse or poor technique during exercise. The injury expresses itself with excruciating pain and very often presents as swollen and tender to touch. This type of injury can be mild (symptoms don not last long with treatment) severe (may need further treatment or even a doctors consultation) or chronic (it may recur over time).
Other inflammatory type injury processes
Fasciitis (Inflammation of the layer of fibrous tissue covering muscles and tendons); Bursitis (Inflammation of the small, fluid-like sacs that cushion joints and muscles); Arthritis (Inflammation of a joint) and Synovitis (Inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the joint).
Dislocations occur when bones slip out of position in a joint. This type of injury mainly occurs in shoulders and hips. Sometimes the injury involves the limb being slightly out of place (sublimed). However, sometimes the limb is completely out of place (dislocated). Often in this case (such as in certain types of shoulder dislocations) the deformity is visible, and the joint is unable to function properly.
With regards to manipulation of the joint back into the correct position (reduction) this is something that should be done by a relevant professional such as an orthopaedic doctor or physiotherapist. Once this type of injury occurs the potential for reoccurrence increases so it’s important thereafter to look at strengthening the joint as much as possible.
A disruption in the continuity and integrity of a bone. Fractures can be graded accorded to their severity. A hairline fracture is a slight break in the cortical bone, this is common in extremity fractures (broken toes and stress fractures in the feet). More complicated fractures can be displaced (the bone parts have separated and need to be re-manipulated back into place), comminuted (shattered into several pieces like a broken mirror) or open (broken bone protrudes through the surface of the skin – big infection risk!). All of these more complicated types of fractures will require skilled medical management.
Lacerations and abrasions
The usual accumulation of knocks, cuts, bumps and scrapes. Small cuts can be washed and treated with soap, water and plasters. Deeper cuts may need special dressings or bandaging.. You may need medical treatment if the cut is really deep to avoid infection, ensure your tetanus shots are up to date.
It is all too easy to avoid exercise after a painful injury. The fear of re-injuring yourself and being out of action again is always there. The important thing is having the discipline to pick yourself up after that fall and get back on that horse! Injuries are always going to happen, indeed even if you don’t train the potential for injury is always there! Exercise is one way of strengthening your body and bulletproofing yourself against the overstraining injuries that do occur in everyday life. So take your time, make your training effective and focus on your technique. In time your knowledge and awareness will make your train smarter and help you avoid the pitfalls of injury.