Clients and Sports Injuries
Barbara A. Brehm
"I love working with athletes, but I will tell you one thing I did not expect about this job: Many of the athletes I work with are coming back from sport injuries, or are limited by past injuries. I know some injuries are going to happen no matter what you do, but wouldn't it be great if coaches spent more energy on preventing them? And if athletes were more informed about how serious injuries can be, and learned more about injury prevention? I can tell you from personal experience, having played sports and gotten injured several times in high school, I wish I had it to do all over again. I would be more careful. Some injuries are with you the rest of your life."
Participation in sport offers many wonderful benefits for athletes of all ages. But, with activity comes the risk of injury. Researchers have estimated that, each year, high school athletes alone experience approximately two million injuries, which lead to about 500,000 visits to healthcare providers and 30,000 hospitalizations.4 Many healthcare professionals are calling for coaches, physical educators and other fitness professionals to do more to reduce the risk of sport injury.1,2
Good training = injury preventionIf you work with athletes, you are probably already doing a great deal to limit their injury risk. Fortunately, much of the practice work that helps to prepare athletes for competition also helps to prevent injury. Physical conditioning strengthens muscles and joints, making them more resistant to trauma. Biomechanical analysis of sports skills helps athletes achieve proper body mechanics for both effective performance and injury prevention. Sport analysis helps athletes understand how to make good tactical decisions that improve competitiveness and, in many cases, help to avoid injury.
A number of coaches, including strength and conditioning coaches, have introduced fitness training that addresses areas of high injury risk. Core training helps strengthen muscles that stabilize the torso, and thus reduces risk of back injury. Plyometric and other jump training programs strengthen the muscles around the knee, teach good body mechanics and reduce risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, a common and often devastating knee injury.
The most common mistake that athletes and those who train them make is to believe more is always better. The fine line between training and overtraining is easy to cross. Urge athletes to monitor the signs of overtraining, and be alert to excess fatigue, a decline in performance, frequent illness and injury, and mood disturbances such as depression and anxiety.3 Poor nutrition and eating disorders can contribute to overtraining, as the body is not supplied the nutrients it needs for recovery and good health.
Environmental challengesMost fitness professionals take care to accommodate environmental stressors. Be sure your athletes always have access to water, and, if activity is prolonged, to sports beverages to prevent dehydration. Events should be rescheduled if heat or cold exposure will be dangerous. Be sure the practice and competitive environments are as safe as possible. Athletes training and competing in hot weather or at altitude should have time to adapt to conditions gradually.
References1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sports-related injuries among high school athletes — United States, 2005-06 school year. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 55 (38): 1037-1040, Sep. 29, 2006.
2. Koester, M.C. Youth sports: A pediatrician's perspective on coaching and injury prevention. Journal of Athletic Training 35: 466-470, 2000.
3. Perna, F.M., M.H. Antoni, A. Baum, et al. Cognitive behavioral stress management effects on injury and illness among competitive athletes: A randomized clinical trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 31: 428-438, 2003.
4. Powell, J.W., and K.D. Barber-Foss. Injury patterns in selected high school sports: A review of the 1995-1997 seasons. Journal of Athletic Training 34: 277-284, 1999.
Safety equipment and shoesStrongly encourage clients to get the best possible safety equipment for their sport. The extra expense for good helmets, eye protection or whatever their sport calls for is worth the investment. Good footwear is essential for injury prevention and, again, the extra cost may prevent foot, ankle, leg, knee, hip and back problems.
Healthy lifestyleEncourage the athletes with whom you work to achieve a balanced lifestyle. Adequate rest and good nutrition are essential for peak performance, and reduce the likelihood of fatigue that contributes to injury.
No pain, no gain?Teaching athletes to get tough and work hard can be a good thing. But if you direct clients to ignore symptoms that may indicate a developing injury, you may inadvertently increase their injury risk. Teach athletes to differentiate pain that may signal the development of an injury from the muscle pain that signals fatigue.
Facility of the Week
Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center