Sports injuries are fairly common, even among seasoned or professional athletes. Kids and teens are especially vulnerable. In the US alone, around 30 million kids and teens play sports. While approximately 3.5 million injuries occur every year, about a third of these cases are related to sports.
Out of all the joints in the human body, the knee is the one most prone to injury. Knee injuries can be debilitating for many players. Injuries involving the knee or anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) can keep athletes from playing for a season or more.
A program that includes a combination of stretches, drills, and exercises is critical to preventing injuries to the knees. If you are looking to avoid injuries while playing, here are a few tips you can follow:
1. Perform a quick warm-up and cooldown
Injuries often occur after performing strenuous activities while your muscles and joints are still “cold” or rigid. Get your blood flowing and raise your body temperature by doing a few light exercises as a warm-up. It can be as simple as walking or jogging for 5 to 10 minutes.
Cooldowns after a workout or game are just as important as warm-ups. A cooldown activity is performed to get your heart rate to slow down to under 120 beats per minute. Similar to a warm-up, you can walk around, jog or do some light aerobic activity for no more than 10 minutes. In both cases, the goal is to get your muscles and body ready for the next phase: stretching.
2. Don’t skip the stretches
Stretching enhances the joint’s flexibility and range of motion. But it is not just the knees that need stretching. The knees connect your muscles to other parts of your body. Neglecting to stretch areas such as your hips and ankles adds strain to your knees, causing them to work harder.
There are two types of stretches. Knowing what they are, when to use them, and a few examples can help reduce the chances of injury:
- Dynamic stretching – involves stretching the muscles and joints while moving around. Dynamic stretches are performed to improve muscle strength and joint stability. Lunges and arm circles are a few stretches you can do before and after a workout.
- Static stretching – involves holding a position for a specific amount of time. Hamstring and neck stretches are a few examples of static stretches as they lengthen the tendons and muscles while in a relaxed position. As static stretches do nothing to warm up the joints, they should only be performed after a game, workout, or during the recovery process.
3. Perform a variety of exercises
Regardless of the sport you play, it is important to create a balance between low-impact and high-impact activities. Running and climbing stairs are a few examples of exercises that can be hard on the knees. Such high-impact routines can give you a great workout but you need to offset the strain on your knees with low-impact activities.
Much like high-impact exercises, low-impact workouts also come in a variety of intensities. Swimming and biking are a few low-impact workouts that provide great cardio. They can give you a workout and get your blood flowing without putting a lot of strain on your knees or ankles. For low-intensity activities, consider leg lifts or exercises you can do while on your back.
Low-impact workouts offer many advantages. For one, they can give your body a break in between games while keeping you fit. Low-impact exercises are also beneficial for seniors, individuals who have been injured, or those who have mobility or joint problems.
4. Keep a healthy weight
The more weight you put on adds stress to your knees and joints. Not only will the excess weight increase your chances of injury, but you may also end up with chronic joint pain or develop osteoarthritis later on in life.
Many athletes pay close attention to their weight and diet to minimize their chances of injury while playing. Maintaining a healthy weight is an ongoing process that may require more effort as compared to the other tips on this list. However, doing so will benefit you for years to come, whether it is on or off the field.
5. Wear proper footwear
It may seem obvious but the shoes you wear can affect your performance. Stilettos, for instance, may look good when doing a formal client presentation, but not when you are in the gym or playing sports. Wearing high heels puts stress on your knees, ankles, and quad muscles.
Even with playing sports, you need to find and wear the right types of shoes for the activity. Take soccer for example. When playing outdoor soccer, you need shoes with cleats as the studs are useful for gripping the soil. On the other hand, indoor soccer fields are often even. As such, indoor soccer shoes typically feature a flat outsole.
Each type of shoe is designed to give you the right amount of support in specific areas of your foot and leg. But given the wear and tear on sporting shoes, it is not uncommon to find athletes constantly buying new footwear. You may need to change your shoes every few months to get the support you need to perform at a high level.
6. Pace yourself
Overuse injury occurs when you do too much, too quickly, or without any consideration to proper form. When learning a new sport or technique, poor form can put too much stress on certain parts of your body, causing injury in the process.
Take it slow, whether it is learning a new move, building strength, or adding intensity, among others. Rushing the process only increases your chances of putting you on the sidelines.
Listen to your body whether you play sports, exercise, or stretch. Physical activity should not hurt. If you feel any pain when you do any physical activity, contact a specialist in sports injuries. By working with the right specialist, you can continue to train, play sports and live an active life with minimal risk of injury.