Spring Tune-Ups for Injury Prevention

Now that the snow has finally melted around here, a new season of sporting activities is beginning. If you are about to start a sport, especially if it is something you have never done before, injury prevention should be something that is on your mind.   A lot of sports injuries occur at the beginning of a new season as our bodies may not be accustomed to different demands.

I once had a client who was very athletic and loved playing all kinds of sports. He was always getting into something new. Unfortunately he was landing in my clinic shortly after starting almost every new venture. After this happened a few times I suggested to him that maybe he should consider coming to see me before starting his next new thing. He looked at me like I had two heads. I explained that by looking at his overall movement patterns and addressing areas where he was lacking control and power I could help him avoid injury altogether. Needless to say this was a revelation, but he took me up on it with much success.

You might wonder how it is possible to look at someone and figure out where they might injure themselves before it happens. Well, no I don’t have a crystal ball. Believe me, if I did I would have won the lottery long ago. What I do have is a solid understanding of what causes common sports injuries. Let’s look at a few.

Pulled Quadriceps or Hamstrings (muscles in the front and back of the thigh)

This injury is especially common in sports such as soccer which require quick bursts of forward speed. As with any muscle strain these occur because the muscle in question is over-working. Why does it do this? It does so in order to compensate for another muscle that is not pulling its weight. In this case the real culprit is usually the gluteal (buttock) muscles. If the gluteals are not working properly then the quadriceps and hamstrings have to pull harder, and this often results in injury. So if someone came to see me and said they were about to start a new season of soccer, making sure the gluteals are active would be at the top of my list of priorities.

Shin Splints

This is a painful inflammation due to overuse of the muscles in the front of the shins. It is common in runners but can occur in other sports. The culprit here is again the gluteal muscles. When we run our forward momentum should mainly come from the big powerful gluteal muscles. If they aren’t working properly then the much smaller weaker shin muscles can be recruited to pull the entire body forward once the foot is planted. This is hugely inefficient and so results in excessive strain on the shin muscles who don’t like this very much and will let us know about it in a big painful way.

Shoulder Pain

This is common in sports involving the arms such as tennis and baseball. In many cases shoulder issues can result from lack of mobility and control through the rib cage and upper back. When we raise an arm above shoulder height, the muscles around the rib cage and upper back have to become very active in order to support the shoulder in its efforts. If there is any limitation here, there will be excessive strain put on the shoulder.

In other cases the problem may be quite distant. For instance, when serving a tennis ball a lack of rotation in the opposite knee or hip could cause excessive strain at the shoulder as the serving motion involves the whole body working together to produce power behind the ball.

The Moral of the Story

Preventing injury requires a sound understanding of full body movement patterns and knowing which muscles are most likely to be inactive and thus cause excessive strain in other muscles. It also requires knowledge of what movement patterns are required for each specific sport and thus where the most likely vulnerabilities lie.

In terms of preventing (or treating for that matter) recurring injury, addressing the root cause of the problem is paramount. For example, if someone has had previous quadriceps strains, having them do stretches for the quadriceps isn’t going to prevent the injury from recurring, as the problem does not lie within the quadriceps. The only way to stop the cycle is to address the root cause, which is most likely underactivity in the gluteal muscles.

We do tune-ups on our cars (e.g. wheel alignment, tire rotation) in order to avoid problems before they happen. So why don’t we do the same for our bodies? It makes sense that if some part of our body is out of alignment or some muscle is not active then some other part of us will pay the price. Don’t wait until an injury occurs and puts you out of action. Get a spring tune-up so you can enjoy the season from beginning to end.