5 Ways Athletes May Avoid Spine Injury
All athletes, from professionals to weekend warriors, are at risk for a back or neck injury. Excessive strain, especially on the low back or lumbar spine, is quite common for athletes and can lead to episodes of back pain, sometimes severe. While it may not be possible to prevent injuries completely, here are 5 things athletes should know to keep their spines healthy.
#1 - Warm Up and Stretch
A proper warm-up with stretching exercises can increase blood circulation and improve the flexibility of muscles and ligaments. This not only helps enhance athletic performance, it can prevent injuries as well. To stretch properly, follow these tips:
- Stretch slowly and gently only to the point of mild tension.
- Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds - don't bounce!
- Stretch for the same amount of time on each part of the body.
- Stretch after your game as well to relieve sore or tight muscles
#2 - Reduce the Chance of Injury: Use Proper Equipment
All sports have the risk of injury. Some more than others. In general, the more contact in a sport, the more risk of injury. To reduce the risk of injury to the spine, athletes should wear protective equipment appropriate for their sport such as neck rolls and shoulder pads. Well-constructed and supportive shoes are also a must. Other types of equipment that can help prevent injuries to other parts of the body may include:
- Pads (elbow, wrist, chest, knee, shins)
- Face guard
- Protective cup
#3 - Stay Hydrated
Heat injuries in sports occur as a result of excessive exercise in high temperatures and humidity. Use common sense to avoid these potentially serious injuries. Here's how:
- Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your sport.
- Avoid playing or practicing during periods of extreme heat and humidity.
- Wear lightweight clothing with maximum skin exposure to allow sweat to evaporate.
- Take break or allow for periods of rest to allow your body to rest and recuperate.
#4 - Don't Overdo It
Repetitive Motion Disorders (RMDs), such as tennis elbow (epicondylitis), bursitis, and tendonitis, occur when movements are repeated over and over again causing damage to various parts of the body. To avoid overuse injuries, try the following:
- Take rest periods during practice and games.
- Use correct form and techniques in your sport. If you're not sure how, take a lesson to make sure you are doing it right.
- See your doctor if you experience any pain or muscle fatigue, inflammation and swelling, or compression of nerve tissue.
- Try "cross-training" with a variety of sports and activities to lower the strain upon individual muscle groups and areas of your body.
#5 - Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
In addition to your sport, look for other ways to improve your overall health by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes:
- Plenty of rest.
- A well-balanced, low fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Avoidance of smoking and excessive use of alcohol.
- A visit to your physician at least once a year to help prevent problems before they get too serious.
- If you have pre-existing medical conditions, consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen.
An important strategy to help you "stay in the game" is to be aware of steps you can take before the event to reduce the risk of a back or neck injury. Precautions may keep you from being side-lined!