Sinead Sperrin – Physiotherapist
Sports injuries occur during exercise and physical activity, and can include muscle strains, ankle sprains, fractures, dislocations, contusions, and muscle pain. Signs of an acute injury include swelling and bruising, limb deformities, reduced range of motion in a joint, inability to take weight through your legs, weakness, and pain.
It has been estimated that, in Australia, sports injuries are costing our community $1.5 billion annually. In the 15-29 year age bracket, the most common sports causing injuries are Australian rules, netball, cycling, cricket, basketball, and dancing, while the most commonly injured areas of the body are the hand and fingers, wrists, ankles, knee, and shoulder.
Many studies have suggested that up to 50% of sports injuries are preventable, and there are some simple ways to do this.
From the start of play, it is essential to have the correct safety equipment for preventing any accidents or injuries. Some of these pieces of equipment include:
- Mouthguards: For sports that involve heavy or possible body and ball collision, mouth guards should be worn. Considering that 13-39% of all dental injuries are sports related, mouthguard use is vital in preventing this from occurring. Many studies have shown that the most effective mouthguards are those that have been fitted by a dentist.
- Shin Guards: For sports where kicking is involved, shin guards should be worn to prevent contusions and abrasions to the shin area, especially in soccer where impact from shoe studs is common. It is recommended that shin guards have a small gap between the inner shell and the shin bone to increase protection, as well as having considerable bending stiffness to avoid cracking under direct impact, and the brand that appears to demonstrate these features best is Umbro.
- Headgear: Although it has been shown that the use of headgear is low in sport, it is an important aid in reducing the incidence of concussion and traumatic brain injuries, head and neck trauma, and head to head contact, in sports such as football, ice hockey, horse riding, and skiing
Braces and Taping
Bracing and taping of different joints of the body can aid in restricting unwanted and potentially damaging movement. There is evidence that taping and bracing can help prevent recurrence of a previous injury, however, controversy surrounds the use of these modalities to prevent a new injury. There is also controversy surrounding why bracing and taping may work: is it to do with increased sensorimotor control and awareness of the ankle, or is it the restriction of movement that it allows. At this stage, the research is unclear.
One study looking at American football players using knee braces to prevent injury showed that players that did wear a knee brace during the season had an increased number of knee injuries compared with those players who did not wear a brace.
There is contrasting evidence for bracing in the prevention of ankle injuries. Much research shows that that the use of either tape or a brace may reduce the risk of recurrent ankle sprains, but that it does not reduce the rate a first time injury.
When deciding whether to tape or brace, you must consider:
- Cost: It is, of course, more economical to apply a one-off taping than to purchase a brace, however, if you predict continued use, then buying a brace is 3 times more cost effective over the entire season.
- Time: Applying a brace is much quicker, simpler, and easier than applying tape, as you do not necessarily require another person to aid with this.
- Skin Irritation: When tape is being applied, the sports player must ensure they don’t get irritated skin from its use. If a player has not been taped before, they should monitor the area, ensuring that if it becomes itchy, irritated, or red, that they remove the tape immediately or risk skin damage. The application of a hypoallergenic tape, such as Fixomull, before the rigid tapes use, may reduce the incidence of this.
When taping, you should:
- Apply tape firmly to the specific area, but not restrict movement necessary for that sport
- If there is a previous injury, damaged ligaments should be held in a shortened position
- Shave hair under the tape for better attachment to the skin as well as reducing the risk of skin irritation
- Ensure the skin is clean and dry
- Do not make the tape too tight, for risk of reducing blood circulation to the body below this area
- Apply tape above the area to be taped first, as an anchor, as tape sticks better to itself than to the skin
- Overlap a new layer of tape by approximately half to provide even and consistent pressure and strength
- Ensure there are no folds or creases in the tape, as this will increase the risk of blisters and damage to the skin
- To remove, the use of scissors may be necessary
So… what should you decide?? At the end of the day, it is a personal preference as to whether to brace, tape, or do nothing to prevent joint injuries as there is evidence both supporting and denying the benefits of its use. You can talk to our physiotherapists about the best option for you. They can help in measuring and fitting different braces, and teach you the best taping techniques.
There are a few things to consider when buying new shoes for sport that will aid in preventing sports injury:
- The heel counter, found at the upper back level of the shoe, should be made of rigid plastic to ensure rear foot stability
- The front of the shoe should have enough flexibility to allow adequate movement, especially when pushing off with your toes during running. At the front, if the sole is too rigid, then your calf muscles may have to work harder during running
- The midsole of the shoe is the most important feature and the most individual. For runners requiring control of increased motion, then a midsole that is dual density with more strength on the inner side of the foot is appropriate. For runners needing increased shock absorption, a softer shoe is necessary
Sports players can always talk to our physiotherapists, or book in for a consultation with one of our podiatrists, if they are worried about the correct footwear for their sport.
Prior to participating in your chosen sport, it is important to complete a thorough and appropriate warm-up to aid in preventing injuries. Your warm up should consist of general activities, such as jogging, dynamic stretching (stretch through the full range of motion rather than static stretching which involves holding a single position) , and resistance exercises, as well as sport specific exercises, such as kicking, throwing, and hitting.
There are numerous benefits for the body thought to arise from a warm up, and these include:
- Increased blood flow to muscles
- Increased oxygen release and delivery to muscles
- Increased nerve impulse speed
- Reduced connective tissue stiffness, therefore reduced risk of muscle and ligament injury
- Increased concentration
To aid in preventing sports injuries and allow your body to recuperate following activity, a cool down should be performed. Following sport, athletes should:
- Low intensity exercises, such as jogging or walking for 2-3 minutes
- Gentle, dynamic stretches for approximately 5 minutes, which have been shown to be more beneficial for younger athletes
- Drink plenty of fluids to replace what has been lost
- Eat plenty of carbohydrate infused foods to replace energy stores
- Manage any injuries (physiotherapist, GP, first aid)
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Avoid alcohol consumption
Not participating in an appropriate recovery period will put your immune system and your body at risk of coughs, colds, infection, and fatigue.
Much controversy surrounds whether stretching during warm-up, cool down, and general training, is beneficial for injury prevention.
It has been suggested that for sports that require periods of jumping, bouncing, and running, such as soccer and netball, require muscles to have increased flexibility and a high amount of stretch-shortening cycles. Therefore, if a player has decreased stretch in their muscle-tendon unit, then they could be at a higher risk of injury.
Contrastingly, evidence is showing that when a sport does not demand high periods of stretch-shortening cycles, such as low intensity jogging, cycling, and swimming, perhaps a formal stretching program is not necessary.
For advice or to book an appointment, please contact us on 49751622.