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Reducing Sports Injuries Through Conditioning


Tips for a Sports Conditioning Program

  • Seek advice from a Physical Therapist before starting a new sports activity to get a proper conditioning program. Performing the wrong exercises or doing an exercise incorrectly can cause an injury.
  • When beginning a conditioning program, approach each session as if it were a business meeting. You won’t miss a business meeting, and you should not miss a conditioning session.
  • During the first month, attempt to perform the conditioning program daily. This will help to establish the importance in your daily routine and will enhance the results by stimulating the neuromuscular activity.
  • Conditioning the cardiovascular system will take 3-4 weeks.
  • Conditioning the musculoskeletal system will take 8-12 weeks. You should anticipate muscle soreness during the first couple of weeks of the conditioning program.

Developing a Plan to Combat Common Sports Injuries

Sports injuries and workout-related injuries are commonly treated by Physical Therapists. These common injuries impact men and women across all age groups. Stay safe and healthy on and off the field with a conditioning program designed by your Physical Therapist. A proper conditioning program can help reduce the likelihood of injuries.*

Proper conditioning programs address multiple aspects of physical activity including strength, endurance, flexibility, cardiovascular conditioning, balance, proprioception** and agility. The program should be designed to place an emphasis on training that will best prepare a person to engage in their desired activity.

Common Causes of Sports Injuries

Many people are simply not prepared to engage in a range of physical activities. For some, it’s the challenge of shifting from non-activity to activity. Modern technology has changed our working environments as well as our home life. Many people live sedentary lives. Transitioning to a physical activity requires preparation to help reduce injuries.

Physically demanding jobs may still not prepare us for sports activities. Consider construction. A person may work long, hard hours but still not be properly prepared for a sporting event. The heavy lifting does not correspond to the physical activity of running required for sports like basketball and soccer. Even though some muscles are conditioned, other body parts may be highly susceptible to a sports injury.


Primary Types of Sports Injuries

A general conditioning program can help each of us reduce the likelihood of incurring sports-related injuries and workout-related injuries. Physical Therapists treat two primary types of injuries every day: traumatic and overuse injuries.

Traumatic injuries occur instantly during an event, causing fractures, sprains, strains, contusions and dislocations. Not all of these traumatic injuries can be avoided, but the likelihood of physical traumas is reduced if the body is well conditioned. For instance, the person might be able to avoid them by moving more quickly or being strong enough to handle the abnormal stress and strain placed on a certain body part during the event that produced the injury.

Overuse injuries include stress fractures, bursitis, tendinitis, and other joint-related conditions. Many causes can be correlated to overuse injuries, but some of the most common causes include excessive training, improper training volume and activity, progressing too quickly, and performing the same activity repetitively. In some cases, a person’s anatomy might predispose them to certain conditions. Overuse injuries happen over a prolonged period of time. The symptoms usually begin as a “nagging” condition and progresses to a more painful, limiting condition.


Conditioning to Help Reduce Sports Injuries

When planning to participate in a new sport or new workout, it will be helpful to consult with a Physical Therapist who can develop a thorough and proper conditioning program. Since the Physical Therapist is educated in the treatment of orthopaedic injuries, she will know potential risks related to various sports activities. By discussing the specific sporting activity up front, the Physical Therapist can “tailor” a program to the patient’s needs.

Here are some guidelines for a well-rounded general conditioning program:

Strength: Perform these exercises with resistance such as body weight, rubber tubing, free weights, and machines. Begin with 1 set of 15 repetitions and progress to 3 sets of 15 repetitions. The goal is to use as much resistance as possible, but there should never be pain in the joints (the muscles will “burn” as they fatigue). The goal is to maintain proper form on all 15 repetitions while also struggling on the last 2 or 3 repetitions. This means that you are using approximately 70% of your maximum lifting weight, which is the desired amount for the general conditioning program.

Endurance:   Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscle to generate force without fatiguing. To develop muscular endurance, lift a lighter amount of weight (approximately 60% of your maximum) and perform 3-5 sets of 15-20 repetitions. The muscle will “burn” when it fatigues, but you should be able to complete all of the repetitions.

Flexibility:   Dynamic stretching should be performed before the activity. Warm up by performing movements that are similar to those used in the event/activity that you are going to participate in at that time. The motions are slow and methodical, but a stretch should be felt as the body part is moved through the range of motion. Static stretching can be performed following the activity. These stretches are more effective when the body part is “warm” and the technique involves stretching a particular muscle to a length that produces a mild discomfort. This position should be held for 20-30 seconds and repeated several times.

Cardiovascular training:   The cardiovascular system transports oxygenated blood away from the heart to all body parts and returns “used” blood with heavy CO2 concentrations that need to be “cleansed” in the lungs. The lungs “re-oxygenate” the blood, and the heart recirculates it throughout the body. If this system is well conditioned, the athlete will be able to perform at a higher level of intensity and for a longer period of time. The cardiovascular conditioning can be very specific, but the general guidelines are performing cardiovascular exercise (e.g. accelerated walking, jogging, running, biking, other machines and swimming) are 4-5 times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes. The pace should maintain your heart rate at approximately 60 – 70 % of your maximum heart rate. (An approximate way to calculate your max Heart rate is taking 220 – your age. Multiply this number by .60 or .70 to get the target heart rate for your exercise session.)

Balance and Proprioception:   This aspect is a combination of strength and neuromuscular activity. Balance drills will enhance the reflexive activity of a muscle. These drills are performed on unstable surfaces (pillows, Dyna Disc, Bosu, mini-trampoline) and are designed to develop the body and prepare it for unsuspected motions or movements. When the body is unprepared, and the muscles cannot respond reflexively, an injury-provoking event (abnormal and excessive force) is more likely to cause harm to the joint.

Agility:   Controlling the body in various planes of motion and being able to change directions quickly in a controlled manner. Exercises such as shuttle runs, carioca, rope ladder drills, jumping rope, and quickly changing directions in response to a stimulus are ways to develop more agility.

Physical Therapists can help athletes of all ages and skill levels reduce the likelihood of injury and help improve performance. Remember this saying, “Get in shape to play the game, don’t play the game to get in shape.” The body can be prepared to participate in athletic events, but it takes effort on the patient’s part to perform the conditioning program on a consistent basis.

*As always, it is important to get clearance from your doctor, prior to beginning any exercise program. Any exercise or stretch could cause injury if performed incorrectly.

** Proprioception involves training the body to better sense the movement of limbs in physical space. Proper training can improve coordination, improving performance and reducing potential injuries.

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