The 3 Pillars of Injury Prevention In Sport

“Injury is just part of the game.” We hear these words thrown around too casually and too often. It’s time to flip the script. Sustaining an injury should not be a part of anyone’s game. Instead, we should be saying “injury prevention is part of the game.” 

Participation in physical activity and sport are important building blocks to a healthy lifestyle. It’s encouraged by all healthcare professionals, why? Because it has so many positive effects on your health, both physically and mentally. But it doesn’t come without its challenges. The burden of injury can greatly impact your daily life and wellbeing. All sports have a risk of injury, generally though, the more contact in the sport the greater the risk.

Injury prevention is a topic that is gaining momentum fast, and one we believe should be. It’s a subject that should be incorporated and made a public health priority across all age levels in all sports. In particular, those at greater risk of injury are youth and young adult groups. Injury prevention programs, and an overall increase in injury prevention awareness, will have a significant impact on reducing the long-term consequences of injuries, such as osteoarthritis.

There are not only physical and mental consequences. The financial implications of sports injuries can be huge. It’s also possible that sports injuries are contributing to the rising rate of obesity in youth groups. 8% of youth individuals drop out of sport due to sustaining an injury or have a fear of getting injured and its repercussions. Injury preventative measures and programs can combat this.

So What Are Injury Prevention Programs?

As the name states, injury prevention programs aim to reduce the number of injuries, their severity and extent. It’s a complicated process; programs differ between each sport, and indeed, for each individual. Generally, it’s common for injury prevention to be broken down into three pillars; training, equipment and regulatory protocols. There is strong evidence to support that injury prevention programs are successful in reducing injury in elite, recreational and youth athletes. Let’s take a look at these pillars in more depth.

Training

Training encompasses all forms of physical preparation for sport and exercise. A well-designed training program is likely to be your best defence against injury. It should focus on conditioning and improving your body in line with the physical characteristics that are required by your chosen sport. Programs tend to include strength, endurance, balance, agility and sport-specific skills training for each athlete. They should be designed to improve physical characteristics gradually; often referred to as training load management.  

Your risk of injury is increased when there’s a steep increase in the amount of training (load) compared to what your body is used to. So, your frequency and intensity of training should be progressive to allow your body time to recover and adjust. This is why professional sports teams have such a long preseason prior to competition. It allows time for the athletes to build up to the correct level of fitness safely to perform at their best when the time comes.

For some, it’s surprising that psychological and psychosocial factors also play a role in injury prevention. Level of competitiveness, stress, motivation and perception of risk can influence the rate of injury. As an example, stress causes attentional changes such as decreased attention span, general distraction and increased self-consciousness that interfere with performance. Increased muscle tension and coordination difficulties that are repercussions from stress can also be directly linked to a higher risk of injury. We also know that good nutrition and adequate levels of sleep are important factors in the prevention of injury.

Equipment

In certain sports, the use of protective equipment is an important aspect of injury prevention.  Although not always the most fashionable, they’re designed to keep you safe and participating in the activities you love. Some of the most well known and common types of protective sporting equipment include: 

  • Helmets
  • Protective eyewear (sunglasses, goggles) 
  • Mouthguards 
  • Safety pads and guards (shin pads, cricket batting pads)
  • Proper footwear and athletic shoes 

Additional types of protective equipment include taping, braces and guards that provide extra support to specific areas of the body. As an example, you’ll often see wrist guards used in gymnastics and snowboarding which provide extra support and help reduce the risk of wrist sprains and fractures. 

Additional protection measures such as ankle taping and bracing have been found to reduce the rate of re-injury by approximately 70%. Wearing the correct type of footwear is essential to absorb the harsh impact created by movement. It also provides adequate support to your ankles and feet. This is important in certain sports such as netball and football where knee and ankle injuries are common.

Regulatory Rules and Policies

This pillar refers to the rules and regulations that govern the sport. Specifically, it includes sporting rules, association rules, legal rules and education surrounding regulations. Protective equipment and regulations in sport work hand in hand. In some sports, you’re unable to compete unless you’re wearing the correct, outlined protective equipment. In many cases, rules and regulations have been created specifically to reduce the risk of injury. 

In rugby, a high tackle is an illegal tackling move. It’s when a player makes contact with or attempts to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulders, contacting the head or neck. It’s considered dangerous due to the risk it poses to the head and neck of the opposition player.  

Another prime example of an injury preventative rule is in the sport of cricket. Cricketers must wear a helmet when batting, wicket-keeping or fielding close to the batter. The risk of sustaining a serious head injury from a cricket ball is significantly decreased by the introduction of this protective gear and regulation. 

Simple Injury Preventatives You Can Start Doing Right Now

It can be important to know how injuries occur as much as how to prevent them. Some of the most common factors associated with injury are: 

  • Improper or poor training practices
  • Wearing unsuitable sporting gear (incorrect shoes, no protective equipment)
  • Incorrect technique
  • Being in a poor health condition
  • Training too frequently (leading to overuse injuries)
  • Incorrect warm-up or stretching practices before exercise or game

If you’re a recreational exerciser or athlete and are worried about your personal injury prevention methods, here are some steps to get you started:

  • Warming up before exercise is one of the best preventative measures you can take. Light aerobic exercise will get your muscles warm and ready to perform. 
  • Cooling down after exercise will help prevent muscle stiffness and soreness. A simple cool down, such as a light walk, will help remove waste products from muscles you’ve used during activity.  
  • Progress your fitness routine gradually. If you’re new to consistent exercise or taking up a new activity, it’s important to allow your body time to adapt and condition to your new routine. Training too hard or too frequently when your body has not yet adjusted increases the risk of injury. 
  • Make sure you recover between training sessions by getting adequate sleep (8 hours is ideal) and fuelling your body with high-quality nutrition.

Some people think of participation in sport and exercise as a double-edged sword. Yes, you get the profound health benefits it reaps, but you also run the risk of injury and its associated morbidity and costs. However, for the vast majority of people, the benefits of physical activity and sports participation far outweigh the risks. By taking appropriate injury prevention measures when preparing for your sport, you can reduce those even further. 

We cannot store the health benefits we gain in the early and more active years of our lives, it needs to be a lifelong activity. A serious injury acquired earlier on in life can decrease or prevent regular physical activity in the future. By being informed about injury risks and preventative measures, you can significantly decrease your chance of injury and it’s physical, mental and financial effects.

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