Ever get the feeling that you’re spending more time in the physio waiting room than on the field training or playing sport? Or ever had that horrible sinking feeling when you just know you’ve done the exact same injury you just spent months rehabilitating?
We hear you. And we want to help you. Read on to find out why injuries keep happening and how you can injury proof yourself to keep you on the field and out of the waiting room.
For many injuries, particularly hamstring strains in field sports, the biggest risk factor is having had the injury before. A whopping 1/3 of hamstring strain injuries will recur and the biggest risk is during the first 2 weeks following your return to training or competition.
Up to 20% of athletes will re-injure either the same or opposite leg after an ACL reconstruction, meaning those poor guys have to go through another 8-12 month rehab program. It’s no wonder most athletes never reach the same level of competition after their second ACL recon.
Where a lot of people come unstuck is in the late-rehab phase. By this point you’re feeling pretty good, you can do all the normal things like hang out the washing or climb up stairs without any problems and your physio exercises are getting pretty easy.
The mistake is thinking that this means you must be ready to get back in to training and back on the field when in reality you might have another few months before you’re really ready to cope with the demands of training or competition.
There’s two reasons for this:
- Firstly, to fully rehabilitate from an injury you need to ensure the injured side is as strong as the non-injured side otherwise it won’t be able to cope with the high forces involved in cutting, sprinting or jumping and can cause changes to how you move as a result of the strength imbalance.
- Secondly, you may have had imbalances prior to the injury that increased your risk of injury – without a proper targeted return to sport program those imbalances will only get worse and put you at even higher risk of injury.
So what should you do?
The specifics of an injury-proofing program will be very individual, depending a lot on the nature of your injury and your personal strength/ imbalance profile. But the fundamental principle is the same across the board: strength, strength and more strength.
Weakness hinders athletic development, makes it harder to learn and master technical skills and makes you far more susceptible to fatigue and subsequent injuries. Strong athletes are faster, more powerful, more fatigue-resistant and thus more resistant to injury.
Strength is particularly important to improve injuries where instability is the major underlying cause, as in many shoulder injuries. Throwing athletes and swimmers need to have exceptional shoulder strength and stability to prevent the dreaded shoulder impingement syndrome, which is a nightmare to rehab and often needs complete rest.
The other advantage to doing targeted post-injury training is that you can develop factors like agility, power and reactivity in a controlled and progressive manner. That way not only will you make sure you can cut just as well on your injured leg as your unaffected side, when you do return to training and competition you’ll be in as good or even better condition than when you got hurt.
So all your training focus can be on technical and tactical skills, not building foundations that everyone else built way back in pre-season training.
Trav is a Physiotherapist with an Exercise Science background who specialises in shoulder injuries and gym-based rehab. He believes that injury rehab is an opportunity to work on performance and to emerge better than before you were injured.