Why do we get injured?
If you love your sport, there’s nothing more frustrating than picking up an injury. Understanding why we may get injured is vital to reducing our risk of injury. Being aware of the factors that contribute to sport injury, means we can take steps to control the risk.
Do you find you always seem to be carrying a niggle or two? A new injury crops up as soon as the previous one has healed? Check out these 5 main causes of injury and see if there is anything you can do to reduce your risk of injury.
1: Increases/changes in training
Probably the most common cause of injury that I see in my clients is a sudden change in training. Doing too much, too soon is very common in people new to training. However it’s just as common in experienced athletes. They may be resuming previous high volume following a break, or rapidly upping training in a rushed attempt to bulk up or gain strength. The best way to avoid this is to keep a training diary. Avoiding spikes and lulls in training is important, and a log of your activity can help with this.
It’s not just the volume or intensity of training which matters – the type of training counts too. For example let’s say you currently train for strength in the gym 5x per week. You realise that your power needs working on, so you suddenly replace 3 of those strength sessions with 3 power sessions where you are performing Olympic lifts. This would be an error because while you’re still lifting weights, you’re doing it in a completely different day. It would be much better to start off by just doing 1 session per week for a few weeks and increasing until you get used to it.
Changes to watch out for include:
- Footwear or other equipment
- Activity type (ie adding a different type of lifting, or adding cardio such as running to your routine)
- Frequency, intensity & time spent training (or F.I.T.)
2: Inadequate fitness foundations
When you look deeply at any sport, there’s more under the surface than you would first realise. You may be able to pick 200kg off the ground, press 80kg over your head, run in a straight line for 10 miles, play 90 minutes of football, or hit a storming forehand down the line. This doesn’t mean you have the foundational capacity to do it safely, without causing excess stress on your body. Many times when people get injured, a specific weakness in their fitness foundation can be pinpointed.
Some examples of the foundations you need to have in place are:
- Strength (in supporting/accessory structures, not just the main strength-providing muscles)
- Movement skill/technique
- Bodily awareness
- Breathing technique
Having a well-rounded training regime is the best way of covering this issue. Adding some cardio, mobility work, yoga, pilates, or even just some gentle body-based mindfulness can all help.
3: Lack of recovery
It’s a common misconception that we get fitter and stronger when we exercise. We don’t! We get fitter and stronger (and technically better) when we are recovering from exercise – especially when we are sleeping! Recovery builds the body back up from the stress it suffers during exercise. Skimp on this recovery and you are limiting your progress and leaving yourself open to injury.
Sleep is the number one requirement for recovery. Everyone should be aiming for a minimum of 7-8 hours sleep – although studies show that athletes often require more. There simply is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. This applies to your overall health and longevity as well as short term recovery.
Recovery isn’t just resting either. Nutrition plays a big part in recovery. You need to give your body the fuel that will aid recovery and give the body what it needs. Empty calories like sugary food may satiate your hunger, but they will not provide you with any nutritional requirements for recovery.
Some tips for good recovery:
- Have extra time off after your hardest sessions, and don’t train too many days in a row without a rest day.
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, take on adequate protein and limit sugar.
- Aim for a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
4: Previous injury
The biggest predictor for an athlete suffering a specific injury is whether they have suffered that injury before. This is often down to a vicious circle that happens when we get injured. Take an ankle sprain for example….
The athlete completely rests the ankle and avoids using it until the pain has completely gone. During this stage of disuse, the ankle is losing strength and mobility. Scar tissue is being laid down, and the lack of movement means it is not being deployed in an orderly fashion.
When they start using it again, they are very careful with it. They protect it at all costs. More strength and mobility is lost here. Movement patterns are changed to take stress off the ankle, resulting in a further loss of co-ordination and proprioception around the ankle. The scar tissue starts to become a more permanent feature of the anatomy.
Over time the resulting loss of strength, mobility, co-ordination and proprioception combines with the excess of disorderly scar tissue. This is a potent recipe for the injury to reoccur.
General tips for avoiding previous injuries causing a problem in the future:
- Start rehab as soon as possible following the injury.
- Work hard to strengthen and mobilise the injured area – even when the pain has subsided.
- Try to regain your normal movement patterns as soon as possible.
- If the injury is further back in time, actively work on the issues that it may still be causing.
5: Bad luck
Broadly speaking there are two types of bad luck when it comes to injury. The first is the unavoidable – unforeseen trauma. This kind of injury is very common in contact sports. If a defender two-foots it into your knee when you’re running through on goal, then there’s not much you can do about that.
Unforeseen trauma can also occur in non-contact sports such as bodybuilding, but this can often fall into a grey-area. You may think that pulled muscle in your back was a pure accident – but if you had better awareness, more solid technique, and more well-rounded strength in the supporting structures, possibly you could have avoided it. Even when an injury appears to be an accident, it’s still worth pondering if there were ways you could have made yourself more resilient. Don’t beat yourself up about it though – an accident is still an accident – just be aware that resiliency can avoid some percentage of injuries that occur like this.
The second type of bad luck is just that…. pure bad luck. You can have all your foundations in place, no previous injuries, training sensibly, and be getting sufficient recovery. Yet you still get injured. Unfortunately sometimes this just happens. Injury is not a binary system of you-will-get-injured vs you-won’t-get-injured. All we can do is reduce the risk of injury.
To sum up, if you follow the advice in this article, you will reduce your risk of injury. It doesn’t mean you won’t get injured, but it does mean your chances of getting injured are lower. It also means that if you do get injured, you will most likely recover much faster. So train sensibly, get your foundations in place, recover (and sleep!), take care of your previous injuries, and be lucky!