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Sports Injuries: Prevention is the Best Medicine

Sports injuries include a wide variety of soft tissue, skeletal and joint-related injuries associated with physical exercise, sporting events and numerous athletic activities. Sports injuries are commonly described as strains, sprains, dislocations, fractures, lacerations, cuts, abrasions, blisters, bruising, inflammation, hernia and pain.

More than 20% of all reported accidents are sports-related. Approximately 38% of high school teenagers and 34% of middle school children will sustain a physical activity-related injury, and of these, about 50% will occur as a result of overuse. For example, the repetitive continuous motion of throwing a baseball, football or javelin can potentially lead to soreness and injury in the shoulder.

Outside of direct impact injuries, additional symptoms may include delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), muscle cramps or stitches, exercise-induced asthma, upper respiratory tract infection, compromised immune function and increased susceptibility to different cancers, cataracts and even premature aging. The degree of impairment or tissue damage caused by sport-related activity greatly depends on the athlete's present state of health and physical condition. Other variables include training frequency, training intensity, quality of diet, dietary supplement reinforcement and sport specificity.

Common Causes of Sports Injuries

Prevention of sports injuries is based on knowledge of etiological factors that contribute to increased injury risk. Etiology relates to the cause or origin of a disease or disorder as determined by medical diagnosis. Risk factors for sports injuries can be grouped into intrinsic or subject related factors and extrinsic or externally related factors.

Intrinsic factors have been defined as individual biological, biomechanical and psychosocial characteristics predisposing a person to the outcome of injury. Examples of intrinsic factors include body type, age, skill level and experience playing the sport. Extrinsic risk factors are independent of the injured person and are related to the type of activity during the incident of injury and the manner in which the sport is practiced. Examples of extrinsic factors include weather conditions, footwear and type of sport.

Joint Injuries

Muscle tears, strains and chronic nagging joint pain are common to observe in the gym. Primary causes include poor exercise technique, constant heavy lifting without variation, poor nutrition, insufficient micronutrient intake, excess carbohydrate and fat intake, insufficient protein intake, insufficient sleep, drug use and/or abuse including prescription drugs, poor flexibility, training the same body part too frequently, inadequate warm-up, a build-up of internal heavy metals and toxicants, insufficient antioxidant support, over-training, over-reaching and an acid-dominant diet.

Many injuries are caused by the simple failure to engage in proper exercise or training technique. Execution fundamentals are frequently ignored or not applied because of ignorance. A qualified personal trainer is recommended, not only during the initial integration period, but throughout the individual’s personal learning curve, as bad habits picked up in the absence of adequate supervision may inadvertently lead to problems.

Along with poor exercise technique, many injuries are also caused by inflexibility due to a lack of proper stretching during and especially after training. Stretching helps prevent injury, and actually enhances performance including strength, by improving flexibility. Stretching muscle induces a state of relaxation, which reduces motor nerve excitability. This encourages pain reduction. Stretching techniques known to improve flexibility include static stretching or slow movement, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), and several forms of yoga. Ballistic or bouncing type stretching poses high risk for connective tissue injury.

Most sport injuries are preventable. Periodized training protocols make allowance for strenuous training regimes by advocating a cycling approach that varies training intensity, exercises, sets and repetitions. This technique, combined with cross-training, helps protect the athlete from over training syndromes. Cross-training refers to the inclusion of alternate methods of exercise, such as swimming or in-line skating for example, instead of running alone.

Persistent muscle pain, insomnia, irritability, fatigue, depression and frequent colds or infection may indicate either over-training or inadequate nutrition. Damage increases with poor nutrition, as an insufficient supply of micronutrients compromises tissue strength and training adaptability on a cellular level. Collagen-tensile strength is dependent on circulating ascorbate (vitamin C), and the tenacity of tendons and ligaments is relative to the ingestion of several mineral elements, including zinc, iron, vanadium, silicon, calcium and manganese.

The best way to improve sports nutrition is by using your kitchen blender. I begin and end every day of my life with a delicious, thick, creamy and ice-cold protein shake. The basic recipe consists of 1-3 servings of whey protein isolate, a tablespoon of omega-3 rich sport oil, 1/4-1 teaspoon of calcium ascorbate powder and 1-2 cups of fresh organic fruit blended well in filtered water. Once you get into the habit of using protein smoothies as a staple, you can then add extra supplements for improving endurance, strength and recovery from exercise. Examples include powder forms of spirulina, ribose, colostrum, glutamine, MSM and creatine.

Inadequate rest and sleep deprivation can also increase susceptibility to injury, as fatigue weakens the body and the immune system. Sleep and rest are essential to cerebral regeneration and restoration of the mind. If the primary center that controls coordination, motor dexterity and neurocognitive function is compromised, the athlete may collide with opponents or stationary obstacles which might otherwise be avoided.

As athletes, our requirements for biological support are greater during injury and stress due to increased free radical pathology, not less. The immune system in particular requires an immense amount of support and nourishment. DHEA levels for instance, are almost always below normal as a consequence of injury stress, adrenal exhaustion and prolonged cortisol release. Athletes, keep your head up and your eyes open. Play sport for fun, develop the skill required as a personal challenge and keep your body well-nourished. Sport doesn’t build character, it reveals it!