We see a lot of running injuries and injuries in Gaelic footballers/hurlers that are preventable. But, you guys still come see us after the damage is done! But, do you really think waiting until there is a problem is the best idea?
Most people only consider going to the physio when an injury has happened as opposed to doing what they can to prevent injuries. This is normal, in fact, most people would think it was odd if you went to a physio without an injury.
But, what if I told you that there’s a cliff that people keep falling off near my house. To solve this problem I’m going to get an ambulance put at the bottom to help people who get hurt instead of putting a fence at the top to prevent them from getting hurt in the first place. This sounds like a bad idea, right? That’s because prevention is often better than cure.
Now of course there’s an element of bad luck with some injuries. There are trips and falls that may be completely unavoidable. But there are ways to reduce your chances of getting injured.
Why is it important to prevent injuries as opposed to just treating them?
When it comes to predicting injuries the best predictor is having had an injury before. Shoulders that are dislocated have an 80% chance of happening again. Sprained ankles are likely to reoccur in the first 6-12 months after the first injury. Hamstrings that have been torn once are more likely to be torn again than hamstrings that have never been torn.
By preventing the first injury we can help reduce the chances of the second injury. But, there are many other reasons too. When you are training/running the worst thing is a break. How more sluggish do you feel in your training after a holiday or after Christmas?
Oftentimes getting back into running or training after time off can be difficult and hard to motivate yourself to do. When you have a good routine going and have momentum it’s best to make sure you keep it.
Injuries can often mean stopping running for a period of time. We try to keep you running or training as much as you can even if you have an injury. Stopping and resting isn’t always the best option. In fact, a lot of the time with pain when running most people stop and rest. They start to feel better. They go back to running or training and the pain comes back. Sound familiar?
If you can prevent an injury then you won’t have to take time off. The worst part about having to stop running isn’t always the physical side of things. Participating in sport is often much more than just good exercise. Yes, you may use play sport to keep fit or lose weight. But, I find the best thing about going for a run or getting down to training is clearing my head and getting some space.
You may have only gotten into sports or running for the physical side of things. But, come your first injury or your first period of time where you start to miss lots of training you’ll realize that there’s a massive mental side to exercise. The endorphins after exercise are hard to recreate. The mental side of things is my biggest reason for trying to prevent injuries in myself but of course, the is a performance side to things too.
For those of you training to compete and not just for fun/fitness injury will mean a drop in performance. Even if your injury doesn’t stop you from training or playing it may mean you don’t give a full account of yourself. You may feel you need to train to improve but training with an injury may mean you aren’t getting the full effect. And, if the injury becomes bad enough that you have to skip training/running then you definitely won’t improve.
How do I prevent hamstring injuries?
It is impossible to prevent muscle injuries like hamstring injuries. But, there are many ways to reduce the chances of getting a muscle injury. The best way to prevent muscle injuries is through strengthening.
Many people focus on stretching the hamstring to lengthen the muscle. Flexibility is the most over-rated predictor of injury. Static stretching does very little to reduce the chances of muscle injuries. Instead, you should focus on building adequate strength to withstand the demands of your sport.
The hamstring in particular acts at the hip and the knee. The hamstring flexes your knee and extends your hip. This means you can’t just train your hamstring in one way. You need to strengthen it with a hip dominant movement e.g. a straight-leg deadlift and a knee dominant movement e.g. a hamstring bridge.
On top of direct hamstring strengthening, glute strengthening that can be included in pre-activity warm-ups can reduce the chances of a hamstring injury. With this strengthening work, in order to reduce the chances of a hamstring injury, it is vital to have adequate conditioning and fitness to match the demands of your sport. Most hamstring injuries occur when an athlete is fatigued or they are at top speed.
If you are training for a field sport you need to ensure you have the fitness to not get injured when tired at the end of a game. You also need to expose the hamstring to sprinting at full pace as much as possible. Sprinting and the Nordic Hamstring Curl are the two single best exercises to bulletproof your hamstrings from potential injury.
Should I be doing hamstring exercises if I’ve never had a hamstring injury? Yes, definitely. The biggest predictor of getting a hamstring injury is having had one before. Preventing the first hamstring injury from occurring is key to avoiding issues with your hamstring re-occurring all throughout your playing career.
How do I prevent ankle sprains?
There are 5 key things to reducing your chances of picking up an ankle injury.
- Adequate Strength,
- Good Balance,
- Proper pre-activity warm up,
- Ankle strapping, and,
The obvious thing to strengthen here is your calf. The calf muscle or gastrocnemius having adequate strength is key to reducing the chances of injuring your ankle. But, that is not the only muscle you should be targeting.
The soleus is another calf muscle that is often overlooked. Normal calf raise exercises won’t target this muscle. The two calf muscle gastrocnemius and soleus are very different. So you need to strengthen both.
The gastrocnemius is a powerful muscle that does the heavy lifting during more explosive activities such as straight-line sprinting and jumping. The soleus is a “slow-twitch” muscle which means it doesn’t produce as much force but it keeps you ticking as you’re moving at a consistent pace.
Why is soleus so important? Well if you’re a runner it soleus will be powering your slower steady speed runs. Field sports athletes tend to overlook soleus as “it’s for joggers”. But, the soleus is actually doing the work when you cut and change direction in a game. A lot of ankle sprains happen when you are turning or twisting in a game. This is where adequate soleus strength can reduce the chances of ankle sprains.
On top of the calf muscle, it has been found that people with weak glutes have increased chances of spraining their ankles. Glute strengthening has had positive effects in reducing the chances of hamstring injuries and ankle sprains so it is a no-brainer. If you don’t have time to get a proper strength program in you can incorporate some strength work into your warm-up routines. 5-10 minutes before your two or three runs a week/ your two or three training sessions will do you the world of good.
Strength, aerobic fitness, sports-specific skills. These three things all need to be trained and practiced for every athlete in the world. Balance is slightly different though. If you have a good balance then balance training is not going to do much to help you. If though your balance is poor you need to train it directly. Having poor balance increases your chances of picking up an ankle injury.
Most people do some form of warm-up. But, to avoid injury. Not just ankle injuries then a warm-up specific to your sport is required. If run start with a slower run, GAA plays should warm up with a drill specific to your game. If you’re in the gym you need to do exercises at a lighter weight than you are then going to do later in your session.
The key thing with warm-ups is to make them specific and time-efficient. If you play GAA, football, or rugby then you are in luck there are pre-set and well research injury prevention warm-ups. Simple google “GAA 15 Warm-Up” or “FIFA 11 injury prevention” or “Rugby 7 injury prevention” and they won’t be too difficult to come across.
On top of this if you aren’t in the gym 5-10 mins of glue, hamstring, calf, and quad exercises will also go a long way. If your warm-up is taking too long throw the stretches in the bin. They don’t reduce the chances of injury. Done in a cool down they have even been shown to slow down recovery. Stretches should be saved for when they are needed. It’s not they are inherently bad, it’s that they are only useful in certain circumstances.
Ankle strapping won’t prevent you from getting an ankle sprain. It is for people who have already sprained their ankle and are returning to sport. It is advisable for 6-12 months after your return to sport following an ankle sprain. For proper ankle strapping you’ll need to have a physio on-site at training and matches. You can learn how to do it or teach somebody but tape can be expensive.
Unfortunately, one element of injury prevention is luck. You can’t legislate for this. “The more I practice the luckier I get” may apply to many aspects of sports and many injuries but sometimes bad luck just gets you in the end.
I myself sprained my ankle stepping on a stray sliotar in the warm-up at training when it was a light “puc around” the Thursday before the championship. Some injuries are unavoidable. But, we can reduce the chances of getting a lot of injuries by using our heads.
How do I prevent running injuries?
Running injuries are less likely to be full muscle tears. Muscle tears usually occur at high speed. Most runners are out there moving at as steady and as consistent a pace they can. What’s more likely to affect runners are things like Achilles tendinopathy, runners knee, or shin splints.
“Overuse” injuries are common in runners. While they may not mean there is damage to a joint or muscle they can still be very sore, they can be debilitating, and worse yet to most runners, they can stop you running.
The best way to prevent running injuries is to
- Do adequate strength work.
- Manage your load. And,
- have a plan.
Runners Strength Work:
Most people think by going to the gym to do upper body and then running they have all their bases covered. I myself had that belief before I started studying physio. Running is good for your bone health and joints but having adequate strength in the muscles around the joints adds an extra layer of protection to prevent aches and pains in hips, knees, or ankles from slowing you down.
We advise doing strength work for calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes at least twice weekly. This is very general advice, of course for better results a plan specific to you is superior. If you are interested in a bespoke exercise plan that fits your schedule and your needs that keeps you running injury-free then check out our runner’s assessment that we do in the clinic.
Manage Your Load:
The best at-home guide to managing load is to make sure that you don’t increase your overall distance in a week by more than 10% from week to week. E.g. week one you run 5km Tuesday, 5km Thursday, and 10km Saturday. 20km total. That means next week you should run no more than 22km total.
There are easier ways of doing this though if planning and doing all the maths isn’t your thing. I have two rules to ensure you don’t overdo it.
Rule 1: “One thing at a time!”
If you want to progress your running; increase either your distance OR your speed, but not both. If you are finding 5kms easy now don’t try to do a 6km and try to run faster than last week.
Rule 2: “The Rule of 2”
Before increasing your distance make sure you can run the same run twice at the same speed. i.e if you can do 5km in 25 minutes and want to try to increase to 6km make sure you can do 5km again in 25 minutes before you move on.
If you have any questions please get in touch.