7. Great Ways to Proactively Prevent Injuries
As far as I know, no one has the superpower to prevent all injuries. Despite this obvious declaration, it’s much better to be proactive when attempting to limit injury occurrence and there are several highly effective ways to maintain some control over your own destiny.
1. Restore Postural Balance
Your postural alignment is a like a roadmap pointing the way to where you’re most vulnerable to injury. Restoring musculoskeletal balance is therefore paramount to preventing it. Here are a few easy questions to ask yourself while looking in the mirror to identify your own imbalances:
- Are your shoulders level or does one shoulder rest below the other? If one shoulder sits lower it means you have a shoulder blade and back muscle imbalance all the way to your hips which increases stress one side of your spine and on one hip.
- Do your shoulders look slumped when you look at yourself from the side? Slumpy shoulders indicate your upper back is rounded forward and creating excessive stress on your lower back and neck muscles to counterbalance. Shoulder issues are also possible because a rounded upper back can negatively impact the mechanics of your shoulder joint.
- When you look at your feet does one foot point out more than the other or
is one foot sitting ahead of the other? Imbalanced feet indicate rotated hips and uneven weight distribution between right and left sides. The side that’s overloaded is almost always the first to be injured.There are many books and modalities that deal with restoring postural balance including my book, Ageless, Painless Tennis and Pete Egoscue’s book Pain Free. Additionally, Rolfing, Egoscue and/or a good chiropractor are all possible routes to explore for further help.
2. Vary Your Training
Our bodies respond and adapt to the stimulus we provide which is why it’s imperative to vary your training. By vary I mean mix up your weight and strength routines to avoid developing muscle imbalances (see above section on restoring postural balance). Weights can help OR harm, so train your body in all planes of motion and function, never do the same weight routine or the same weight machines two days in a row (unless you’re specifically targeting a weakness), and work with a knowledgeable trainer so you can learn new exercises and new ways to stimulate your entire body.
Also, don’t just be a runner or a cyclist or follow one singular activity as your mode of exercise. Add swimming, dancing, Nordic skiing, yoga, squash, or anything else that sounds fun. The varied stimulus will keep you much more functional than just one sport or activity alone.
3. Maintain Flexibility
Flexibility is another term for joint function. Maintaining full joint range of motion in your shoulders, spine and hips is imperative for staving off injury. Therefore, when weight or strength training, never compromise overall flexibility and joint mobility for strength. The only exception is when the goal is to strengthen an unstable joint (e.g. if recovering from an injury or surgery). Most of you already know where you’re “functionally challenged” so don’t accept limitations if you don’t have to. Rolfing, Egoscue, Muscle Activation Technique (MAT), and yoga are a few examples of modalities or techniques that work to enhance your joint range of motion and overall flexibility.
4. Stay Connected to your Body
Our bodies are equipped with warning signs that injury is possible, which makes it imperative to pay attention and stay connected at all times. Muscle or joint pain is the body’s biggest warning system but it’s usually the last step. Before pain sets in there are other blinking red lights of various intensities to wisely heed before it’s too late:
- Excessive fatigue might mean you’re overtraining or that your immune system is under attack, leaving you vulnerable to breaking down.
- Chronic tightness in one muscle group like one hamstring, calf or achilles tendon can often indicate those muscles or tendons are too overstressed and close to giving way.
- A general sense that you don’t want to play today might be your body’s subliminal message it’s not up for the task because it senses an issue even if you’re not consciously aware of one.
As a general rule, if you don’t feel like exercising or playing on a given day, then don’t!
5. Get Plenty of Sleep
Our brains and bodies restore, renew and repair through sleep and rest but especially through REM sleep. Some people need more sleep than others but we all instinctively and experientially know how much we need to operate optimally. The key word there is optimally rather than just getting through the day without drinking five cups of coffee.
One or two restless nights is usually not a big deal and fairly common especially before a big competition, but repeated failure to get enough sleep is a recipe for injury. So, get your z’s and keep your mind and body at their peak state.
6. Stay Hydrated
Our muscles and vertebral discs are made up of about 70% water while joint cartilage found in the knees and hips is about 60% H 2 O. Suffice to say that if any of those structures are dehydrated they lose their ability to absorb shock and to move optimally. Many muscles strains and tears are directly correlated to dehydration so remaining hydrated can help you avoid pulled hamstrings or disc ruptures.
Recent studies have found that drinking milk is one of the fastest ways to rehydrate and next in line is a decent electrolyte drink (try to avoid sugary ones though). Water will eventually do the trick too, so drink up!
Your body and mind are inseparable. This is clearly illustrated any time you get nervous and your heart and breathing rate increase, or when your neck aches when you’re stressed. Emotional stress creates and amplifies physical stress, so if you charge the field or court while angry or under emotional duress you enhance your chance of injury.
Meditate and focus on your breath… – breathe in and let your stomach expand and breathe out to the count of 10. Let go of your worries, fears and anger for a minute and reset your mind. Your body will likely reward you by carrying you through another day healthily and happily!
In summation, give yourself the best chance of avoiding injuries by becoming your own guide, pay attention to your body’s messages and remain as proactive as possible.
It’s also crucial to seek out and recruit knowledgeable and skilled people to your health and healing team while trying many different healing modalities. The more traditional and “alternative” therapeutic roads you test the more you’ll learn what works best for you and your body. You’ll be rewarded physically and mentally, and you might even improve your performance along the way!