The Rehab profession lives off of people getting hurt – it’s what keeps us in business. BUT, I’m in the business of helping individuals who are currently hurt AS WELL AS preventing injuries from reoccurring. That’s right, I’m in the business of helping YOU not need ME! Crazy, right?
Now, I can’t see into the future and say that if you do “x, y, z” then you’ll never have an injury – that’s not realistic because sometimes…. life happens. While these 5 things I’m about to list are not a comprehensive list and I can’t say that they are absolutes (there will always be exceptions), what I can say is, if you do these following things, you can help your body recover and decrease the likelihood that you’ll get injured – that’s fair right?
Sleep probably wasn’t the first thing you thought a Physical Therapist would say for injury prevention, right? No worries, you’re not alone in that thought. However, this is probably one of the most important – and EASIEST – things that you can do to prevent injury. If your body is fatigued/tired, your performance will suffer in anything you attempt to do (lift, workout, run, compete, function etc…). By getting enough sleep (recommended 7-8 hours a night), you’re allowing your body to reset, allowing your nervous system to calm down and relax, and giving your muscles/joints a chance to relax/decompress. Good/regular sleep patterns allows your endocrine system to reset your hormone levels. If you’re constantly stressed/fatigued due to lack of sleep, testosterone levels begin to drop and cortisol levels begin to rise, which will negatively impact fitness and performance levels.
You’re also going to want to make sure you get GOOD sleep. This means being able to enter REM sleep efficiently and falling asleep fast. With the rise in technology usage, we have to be conscious of how much stimulation we are getting from it before bedtime. The light emitted from our phones/tablets/laptops/TVs etc… makes our brains think it needs to be awake when we actually need to be shutting down and sleeping. It’s a good idea to stop using any electronic devices an hour before bed time, and engage in some meditation/reading to help create a calm and less stimulating environment for our bodies and minds.
2. Good Nutrition
Another point that isn’t directly related to physical therapy but is HUGELY important to injury prevention. This is along the lines of holistic recovery. If you’re an active individual, you want to make sure that you are treating your body well with good nutrition before/during/after any activity (essentially ALL the time. But cheat days can be allowed ;)). Ultimately – you’ll have to follow this one simple rule; Eat minimally processed, whole foods for a balanced/healthy diet. Fad diets (keto/paleo/intermittent fasting etc… are not long term solutions for good nutrition. But that’s a post for another day).
Before activities, you want to make sure you have enough fuel to sustain the necessary amount of energy required for that activity/sport. Usually this means carbohydrates for quick energy and a good amount of fats if energy is required for a longer period of time. If competing at a high level and elite performance is required, make sure to have your last meal 2-3 hours prior the competition so that you aren’t weighed down and feeling sluggish – but make sure to take in quick carbs prior. During exercise, the same principle applies – quick/simple carbs for energy (complex carbs may be needed for endurance sports/activities) and LOTS of hydration. Hydration is not simply drinking water – you need to replenish the salt and electrolytes lost due to sweat. Add some salt/electrolyte tablets to your water, drink a sports drink (Gatorade, Propel, Powerade etc…). The longer the duration of the sport, the more you will need to hydrate to prevent cramping and thus injury. Post exercise nutrition is often overlooked. Many athletes think they burned x-number of calories and therefore are entitled to a cheat meal. What you take in AFTER exercise will dictate what your body will absorb to aid in recovery of your muscles and joints. Make sure to have a protein dense meal 2 hours after exercise to aid in muscle building, increase salt intake to replenish any electrolyte loss, and make sure to eat a balanced diet.
3. Foam Rolling/Stretching
For those who understand how I practice, you’ll know that I don’t ever recommend a full body stretch/foam rolling session. A full body release like that will only wreak havoc on your nervous system because there will be muscles/ligaments released that don’t need it, and there will be activations required that won’t be done. BUT, as a general rule, you can stretch/roll out muscles after a workout/competition where you’ve overworked certain muscle groups. For example, after playing in an all day volleyball tournament (outdoor doubles), my calves/quads/glute max/back extensors are all overworked due to the numerous repetitions I took in jumping. A gentle, slow roll out/stretching session will help these muscles from being overly sore the next day and aid in flushing out the lactic acid buildup. So if you just completed a workout that stressed certain muscle groups more or if your sport demands more from certain muscles and you just had a long practice/game – make sure to do some stretching/foam rolling to relax these overworked muscles.
4. Exercise/Strength Training
That’s right … MOVE MORE! If we don’t exercise, then when our bodies are tasked with doing something physical, it won’t be prepared to and thus increases our risk of injury. Those who are sedentary are at higher risk of injury than those who are active – and they usually are less healthy than active individuals as well! By exercising more, our joints are being moved through full range of motion (SUPER important), our muscles are working towards increased neural efficiency and strength, and our bones/joints are being loaded and thus bone density improves.
5. Take days off!
You read that right. The final thing to staying healthy and injury free is to know when to take time off from training. This is not to go against the previous point, in fact they go hand in hand. Our bodies require rest and recovery – going hard 7 days a week is not productive (unless it is for a short period of time with a clear and definitive deadline) and doesn’t allow our nervous system to reset (see Point 1) – which leads to higher levels of cortisol and lower levels of testosterone. Training 5 days a week still allows for intense workouts and 2 days of rest during the week. It’s like that analogy with a drawer that is stuck – pulling harder doesn’t open the drawer more efficiently. In fact, if you push the drawer back in and reposition, it pulls open more smoothly. Fitness training is the same in that in order to see gains/make progress, you might have to take a day or two off, as opposed to not taking that time off and working out more.
There you have it – these 5 points, if followed, can help you decrease the risk of your injury. Because let’s face it, no one can 100% prevent injuries from occurring and if they say they can, they’re lying. Life happens, unexpected accidents happen. But these are a good place to start if you want to start improving your overall health!