How to prevent the most common sports injuries
Attention weekend warriors: exercise doesn’t have to hurt. A renowned sports medicine doctor weighs in.
Now that warmer weather is here, couch potatoes are vegging out less and exercising more – and moving muscles that are unprepared for that burst of activity. This can lead to strains, sprains and other injuries. So what can you do about it?
We spoke with Dr. Moshe Ben-Roohi, an Israeli orthopedist specializing in spinal and sports medicine. We tracked him down at his Lifespan clinics in Santa Monica and Dallas, where he treats athletes, executives and movie stars.
Born in Jerusalem, Dr. Ben-Roohi attended medical school at Tel Aviv University. “Some physician’s roles are to add years to life,” he tells us. “My goal has always been to add life to years.” In the interview below, he explains why these injuries occur, how to treat them, and what you can do to prevent them in the future.
From The Grapevine: How can sports injuries be prevented?
Dr. Ben-Roohi: In order to avoid preventable injuries, we really need to know our bodies. We need to recognize when we’ve left it all on the field and it’s time to stop. This applies to running, competitive sports, and working out in the gym. And it applies to sprained ankles, hamstring injuries, knee, back, and hip injuries too. If you look at injuries in basketball games, almost all of them are in the last quarter when the players are tired and their muscles are overworked. Struggling to do those last couple of reps might seem like a good idea, but it could end up sidelining you with a lingering injury.
Warming up prior to play is crucial. Golfers who take just 10 minutes to warm up before a game have significantly less back and wrist injuries. This makes perfect sense: you need to get your blood flowing to the joints, muscles, and ligaments you’re going to be working most. Taking a few practice swings can also be a great time to work on your visualization, which has been shown to improve performance in multiple sports.
What other suggestions to do you have?
When you have a sudden change in physical activity without participating in proper pre-conditioning, you’re also at higher risk for injuries. Most injuries at the gym happen when you first start working out and are eager to see results. Instead of starting off by trying to see how much you can lift, consider taking a couple of weeks to do lighter weights, maybe even stick to body weight exercises to let your body get ready for the increased demands you’ll put on your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. That’s why professional athletes participate in pre-season training, and why runners take so many months and slowly increase their running distance to train for that marathon. So be careful at the beginning of ski season, or when joining that adult league and make sure to give your body time to get used to the motions and strengthen the muscles used in those games.
Some injuries are harder to prevent, such as landing awkwardly from a jump or fall, planting your foot in the wrong spot, or simply losing your footing. But balance training can go a long way to minimize these injuries. Learning to fall is as important as learning to run. No wonder professional athletes spend so much time on balance training. Twisting your ankle can be a serious injury and one that commonly recurs. The ligaments and tendons surrounding a joint constantly send feedback to your brain telling it where exactly that joint is in space. When a joint or tissue gets injured, this position sense can diminish significantly and predispose you to repeat injuries. Professional soccer players prevent repeat ankle sprains by improving their balance and proprioception. Common exercises include standing on balance boards with two or even one leg and progressively doing more exercises on the boards, such as catching and throwing a ball, squatting, or even just dumbbell curls.
If you do get an injury, what’s the best way to treat it?
It’s important to know when to see a doctor. Swelling is a normal response to these injuries, but if excessive swelling significantly limits your range of motion it can interfere with healing. If you can’t bear weight on a leg to take more than a couple of steps after an ankle sprain, you should probably see a physician and make sure you haven’t broken any bones. For milder sprains, you can limit swelling and start healing faster by using the RICE method:
R – rest and restrict from activity.
I – apply ice immediately and for the first 48 hours after injury, up to 20 minutes at a time followed by a break of at least 20 minutes.
C – apply compression with an elastic bandage to help reduce swelling.
E – elevating the injured area above the heart will also reduce swelling.
For stubborn injuries that recur or never fully resolve, you’ll likely need more help. First get evaluated by a physician to determine the exact diagnosis and severity. Second, don’t skip the physical therapy. If symptoms persist you may not need surgery. Find out first if you’re a candidate for injection therapy. The medical space between RICE and surgery has grown immensely in just the past 10 years alone.
What’s your must-do advice for everyone who works out?
1. Warm up.
2. Pre-condition for your specific sport or activity and always use proper technique for gym workouts.
3. Know your limits, know when to quit, and don’t work through fatigue.
4. Get proper rest between workouts and after injury.
5. Get proper diagnosis and treatment to address why you were injured in the first place, heal faster and prevent re-injury.
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Related Topics: Sports