Billy is a physiotherapist with a keen interest in sport, especially football.
The influence of COVID-19 has been significant and far reaching across society and certainly includes the passionate world of community sport. However, with the easing of restrictions we are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel for the return of our favourite sporting codes!!
As exciting as this is, the abrupt return of sport involving restricted and modified training protocols poses a number of unique challenges for athletes, with respect to increased risks of injury. This is relevant to both weekend athletes and those at the elite level.
Firstly, it is worthwhile discussing why increased injury risk is relevant to the current sporting environment. Due to the pressing demand to get winter sporting codes started, to potential conflicts with the summer sport season, a smaller and more compact pre-season conditioning period is required. In other words, the spike in training loads between an initial training session and a match is much steeper than would normally be achieved with a routine preseason program. Physiotherapists and strength and conditioning team members use the term load management to describe this change in sporting demands.
An excessive spike or trough in training loads has been linked to increased injury risks, and considering the potentially increased burden of injury in a shortened playing season, this is a pivotal consideration in a team sport program (Windt & Gabbett, 2017).
To a certain degree, this spike in load is non-modifiable due to the exceptional circumstances. So, what can athlete be doing to positively change their risk of injury? Here are some simple and practical tips to assist in you getting the most out of your winter sport season;
1) Ensure any previous injuries are fully rehabilitated.
An unfortunate reality for many players who are participating in-season is that return to play is prioritised over full resolution of symptoms and full clinical rehabilitation. This can often result in weaknesses or deficiencies not being fully rectified. These weaker links can alter an athlete’s movement patterns and potentially present a ‘weak link’ when exposed to high relative sporting volumes.
The benefit of having no current games is that these deficiencies can be prioritised and corrected with a tailored rehabilitation program.
2) Include exposure to sport specific training.
This may sound obvious, but adequate training of sports specific volumes is pertinent to managing injury risks. In some circumstances, the antidote is the poison itself in adequate doses. For example, high speed running is a risk factor for hamstring injury, but completing appropriate volumes of high speed running in a graded way is actually a way to prevent hamstring injuries (Duhig et al., 2016). A spike in kicking volumes is often associated with quadriceps or hip flexor injuries, therefore exposing an athlete to appropriate, graded kicking volumes is a great way to minimise these injuries (Mendiguchia, Alentorn-Geli, Idoate, & Myer, 2013).
Understand your sport and its unique demands. If you play a hockey, make sure you hit enough balls. If you play rugby, make sure you’re practicing some tackling (when safe to do so…). If you’re a basketballer, be sure to train agility and change of direction. Exposure to these loads is pivotal to prevent an excessive spike when matches return.
3) Optimise recovery strategies
As athlete’s return to sport, it is certain that many of them will experience generalised delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS) following training. While literature advocating for or against specific recovery practices is inconsistent, it is widely accepted that taking an active role in recovery from exercise is a positive step for any athlete (Calleja-González et al., 2016).
Find what works for you, whether it be a light walk or bike ride on the day following training or a foam rolling or stretching session. Anything that you can do to help your body recover quickly will help you best prepare for the next training bout.
4) Understand and respect your body.
Despite strict adherence to all training load, recovery and rehabilitation practices, it is an unfortunate fact that some players are more prone to injury than others. Also, if you haven’t been active during the lockdown period, it is more than likely that you will need to be cautious about how much training you complete when you return to structured sessions.
It will be tempting to aim at a return to sport as soon as possible, like a Round 1 match. However, for someone with a significant injury history, or who is recovering from a long-term injury, it may best to make a conservative decision about delaying return to play. One size does not fit all and this decision should be based on a collaborative approach from the athlete, coach and healthcare stakeholders.
All in all, it’s exciting to be getting sport back in our lives. There is no better time to get any niggling injuries or weakness addressed. If you have any lingering issues that you would like professionally and thoroughly assessed, your physio can set you a structured and goal-orientated individualised plan.
Calleja-González, J., Terrados, N., Mielgo-Ayuso, J., Delextrat, A., Jukic, I., Vaquera, A., . . . Ostojic, S. M. (2016). Evidence-based post-exercise recovery strategies in basketball. Phys Sportsmed, 44(1), 74-78. doi:10.1080/00913847.2016.1102033
Duhig, S., Shield, A. J., Opar, D., Gabbett, T. J., Ferguson, C., & Williams, M. (2016). Effect of high-speed running on hamstring strain injury risk. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(24), 1536-1540. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095679
Mendiguchia, J., Alentorn-Geli, E., Idoate, F., & Myer, G. D. (2013). Rectus femoris muscle injuries in football: a clinically relevant review of mechanisms of injury, risk factors and preventive strategies. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(6), 359-366. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091250
Windt, J., & Gabbett, T. J. (2017). How do training and competition workloads relate to injury? The workload—injury aetiology model. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(5), 428-435. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096040