For those looking to stay active over the holiday season, it’s important to protect yourself from acute and overuse injuries. ACC’s Exercise Science department chair Pamela Soto explains what to watch for and steps you can take to protect yourself.
By: Pamela Soto, Exercise Science department chair
Signs of a strain: A strain is an injury to either muscle tissue or tendon. A tendon is a special tissue that connects muscle to bone. Signs are swelling, discoloration, warmth at the site, and the obvious symptom is pain (especially upon contracting the muscle).
Steps for recovery: Think POLICE* — Progressive Overload, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Follow these steps, with regular icing four times a day for 20 minutes for at least two days. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin can help control the swelling. Adding extra warm-up to the muscle before training is essential.
Signs of a sprain: A sprain is an injury to a ligament. A ligament connects bone to bone so they are typically found at joints. Signs and symptoms of a sprain are similar to a strain but the location of the injury will differentiate the two. If it is at a joint, it is more likely a sprain. If it is in the middle of a muscle, it is more likely a strain.
Steps for recovery: Care of a sprain is similar to a strain, the difference being the long term effect. Since a ligament can be stretched, it will not recover like a muscle. A stretched ligament can lead to chronic instability of a joint — meaning it’s more likely to be injured again. Therefore, a sprained joint must have an extra focus on strengthening the surrounding muscles as the ligament(s) are not as effective at stabilizing the joint.
*Note: POLICE has recently replaced the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) treatment for sprain and strain care. The difference is “progressive overload” which encourages movement of the injury site based on its stage of healing. Early stages would be light stretching and movement, later stages would begin with partial weight-bearing or resistance band work eventually leading to full weight-bearing, light weights and then actual loads to rehab the muscles/joints.
Top overuse injuries and prevention tips for sports:
Injuries- Watch out for lower-body injuries including knee trauma. The forces exerted from changing direction while sprinting or landing and quickly turning direction make the knees particularly vulnerable to injury. It’s important to note each playing position in football changes the potential injury. A lineman might be more vulnerable to lower back injuries versus a quarterback who could see shoulder or elbow injuries from throwing the football.
Prevention- Be sure to train the lower body so it can handle the forces exerted on the lower body when playing football. Traditional strengthening such as squats, deadlift, and leg press are a must. It’s also important to add strength and power-focused training in the lateral and rotational directions with focus on good knee, ankle, and hip alignment. Learning how to decelerate and/or stop without compromising the ankle, knee, or hip are important training elements. Extra focus on the hamstrings and gluteal muscle groups will be very beneficial for preventing knee injuries.
Injuries- Shin splints are very common along with knee and heel pain. A foot injury that can occur with these activities is plantar fasciitis, which results in pain on the underside of the foot or heel.
Prevention- It’s important to start training gradually and avoiding rapid increases in the distance or intensity of training. Allowing enough recovery to let the soft tissue become adapted to the activity is equally important. Be sure to incorporate a thorough warm-up and cool down with sufficient stretching, especially to the lower calf muscles.
Injuries- Watch out for knee injuries, as they are the most common. Also, the kicking motion can cause hamstring strains.
Prevention- Focusing on lower body training is key in order to have the muscular strength to absorb the forces required of the sport. The ankle joint also needs to be strong, so focus on muscles providing stability. Be sure to include sufficient flexibility and hamstring exercises.
Injuries- Weightlifting uses every joint in the body so every joint is vulnerable.
Prevention- Well designed weight training workouts where the body is equally trained (i.e. all major muscle groups) is the best form of prevention. Not overtraining any part of the body such that the resulting muscular development is balanced will minimize injury. Using full range of motion when lifting (with lifting form reigning supreme over the amount of weight lifted) is a huge factor. Having recovery days to let the body tissue adapt to the overload from the training is critical. Overdoing every training session will lead to injury. Preventing lower back injury is paramount. Weightlifting requires a strong core so focusing on core strengthening and not lifting loads that surpass core strength are very important considerations when weightlifting.
Injuries- Upper body injuries are most common, in particular, the shoulder of the dominant arm from the repetitive swinging of the racquet, but lower body issues can happen. Rotator cuff injury is a concern in addition to subluxation (i.e. partial dislocation) of the shoulder. Elbow injuries also occur largely due to poor stroke mechanics.
Prevention- Coaching on proper mechanics of the serve, forehand, and backhand swings are key. Strengthening of the posterior shoulder muscles to counter the repeated forward motion of the sport is also an important consideration as well as strengthening of the back muscles that control the scapula. Lower body training is important as the knee is vulnerable due to the change in direction required by the sport.
Injuries- Shoulder injuries are common with this sport. Rotator cuff injury is a big concern due to the repeated arm motions arms used in freestyle, butterfly, and backstroke.
Prevention- As with tennis, strengthening the muscles opposite of the muscles used in the activity will help keep the shoulder healthy. Exercises such as external rotation, seated rows, bent over rows are very important. Stretching the front shoulder is another important preventative measure.
Injuries- The most common injuries involve the knee and ankle due to repeated jumping and landing improperly.
Prevention- Keeping the knee and ankle strong is key to preventing injuries. Once strength levels are sufficient, introducing plyometrics, including jumping on and off boxes with correct hip, knee and ankle alignment, will decrease the risk of injuries.
Injuries- Volleyball has both lower body and upper body injuries. Ankle sprains are common from landing improperly and rotator cuff injury from serving and spiking the ball.
Prevention- Make sure to train lower leg muscles. It’s important to have the ability to absorb the forces of landing from a jump. Athletes can advance to plyometric training after developing sufficient strength in the lower extremities to take the higher forces. Strengthening the upper body muscles will be beneficial for preventing shoulder injuries. Flexibility of the anterior muscles of the shoulder should also be implemented.
Injuries- Shoulder injuries are common due to the repeated motion of throwing the ball. The overuse of the rotator cuff muscles that create internal rotation can result in an unstable shoulder, creating pain. In addition, the elbow is vulnerable due to the high forces of throwing overhand. The tendons of the muscles that cross the elbow joint can become inflamed, which is most common in pitchers.
Prevention- Focus on weight training for strength and endurance of the muscles that stabilize the shoulder. It’s important to put a heavy focus on the external rotator group and strengthening of the elbow muscles.
Injuries- The elbow is vulnerable to injury due to high forces placed on it while swinging a club. Other concerns are the lower back because of the repeated rotation of the trunk when swinging the club.
Prevention- It’s of the utmost importance to learn the finer points of swinging a club and equally distributing the high forces created from the motion. Also important is training core muscles to protect muscles and ligaments of the lower back. Sufficient mobility of the thoracic portion of the vertebral column will help reduce rotational forces of the lower back. Strengthening the arm with focus on the elbow and the wrist should be included.
The ACC Exercise Science Program is nationally accredited by CAAHEP and offers a curriculum that focuses on the instruction of physical activity to improve the health and wellness of individuals in the role of a Personal Fitness Trainer or Wellness Coach. Degree and certificate programs include: Fitness Specialist Certificate, Personal Fitness Trainer Certificate, and Exercise Science Associate of Applied Science Degree. For more information, visit https://pss.austincc.edu/exercise/