I’m no stranger to sports injuries. With two athletic daughters and plenty of patient experience, I’ve seen my share of surprising snaps, painful pops, torn muscles and worse
After helping my daughters both deal with ACL and meniscus injuries at the same time a few years ago and hearing how their teammates also were dealing with the same injuries I thought it was time to dig deep and learn why these injuries are so common.
Death, Taxes and Sports Injuries?
When you consider that High School athletes alone account for roughly 2 million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits and 30,000 hospitalizations each year, it’s easy to see why this is a big deal.
Sports injuries happen, but as the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine has outlined, over half of them are completely preventable.
So, what’s the deal?
Simply put, few people proactively look for weaknesses that can lead to injuries. Of those who do, even less of them even know what to look for. Whether it’s the result of a positional fault causing a joint to bend against its intended direction or a muscular imbalance, without knowing exactly what to look for you would never catch that something is wrong until it landed you in an orthopedics room.
Common Types of Preventable Injuries
Positional faults and muscular imbalances are the two biggest sources of preventable injuries in athletes.
Positional faults are the result of doors being forced open against their hinges.
Bear with me a minute here–each one of your joints is essentially a different type of hinge, just like those that let your bedroom door swing open and closed.
If you were to hang on the door and pull it in a direction the hinges aren’t built to swing, they would eventually break, right?
It’s the exact same things with each one of the joints on your body. If your knees aren’t bending exactly along the natural grooves in them, along their naturally designed and intended path of movement, they’ll eventually break.
Muscle imbalances, on the other hand, can both be directly responsible for injuries as well as contribute to a higher risk of developing a positional fault. Muscle imbalances can be the result of poorly designed exercise programs that neglect the relationship different muscles have with one another, or they can develop as a result of abnormal movement patterns.
Your body is an upright system of hinges and pulleys. The muscles provide the balancing force on either side of each pulley to keep each section of hinges supported upright above the section below it.
If just one muscle is lagging, the pulley it is responsible for is uneven, allowing that section to sway out of its natural position. This can create unnatural movement patterns which cause your joints, the hinges, to bend against their natural range of motion. This causes injuries.
Muscle imbalances can also become injurious when the muscles on one side of a hinge are too weak to counteract the muscles on the other side. It’s like a constant tug-of-war, only you want the rope to stay put in one place. This means you need an equal force on each side pulling to keep your joints stabilized. If one side is too strong compared to the other, the weaker of the two will be torn trying to stop the force of the other side.
For example, you have your quadricep muscles in the front of your leg above your knee and your hamstrings above your knee on the back of your leg. If the quadriceps are too strong kicking your foot out forward while running then your hamstrings can be injured trying to stop your leg from swinging out front too far.
Prolonged exercise and practice ignoring either of these conditions is the only thing that turns these preventable injuries into inevitable setbacks.
So, What Can I Do?
The best course of action you can take is to have a professional give you an evaluation. As well-intentioned as it may be to simply be mindful of your training program, without the right amount of education AND experience, it’s far too easy and common for details to slip through the cracks and leave room for injuries. If this weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be over 30,000 hospilizations a year from preventable high school athletes alone.
If you’re in the Snohomish/King County area and want to schedule an evaluation yourself, call Lilly Physical Therapy at (425) 224-2476