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The best predictors of injury


If you’re a runner, the link between training quantity and injury means that total training mileage is an excellent indicator of your injury risk. The more km you accrue per week, the higher your chances of damage. One recent investigation found a marked upswing in injury risk above about 65 km of running per week.

The two best predictors of injury

However, it’s important to bear in mind that many injuries are actually NOT new trouble areas; they are recurrences of previous problems. That brings to mind an important point: the absolute-best predictor of injury is a prior history of injury. In other words, if you’ve been injured before, you’re much more likely to get hurt than an athlete who’s been trouble-free. Again, this is logical: regular exercise has a way of uncovering the weak areas of your body. If you have slipshod hip muscles, for example, or knees that are put under heavy stress because of your unique biomechanics during exercise (‘poor form’), your hips or knees are likely to be hurt when you engage in your sport for prolonged periods of time. After recovery, if you reestablish your desired training load without changing your biomechanics or strengthening your hip muscles, those areas are very likely to be injured again.

Strangely enough, the second-best predictor of injury, after total training time, is probably the number of consecutive days of training you carry out each week. Consecutive days are counted as follows: if you train on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, you are training on three consecutive days each week (Friday doesn’t count because it has a rest day before and after it).

Scientific studies strongly suggest that reducing the number of consecutive days of training can lower the risk of injury. For example, instead of working out for one hour from Monday through Friday (five consecutive days), you could probably reduce your risk of injury by completing 75-minute workouts, four days per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, for example).

Your total training time would be the same in each case, but the second strategy would reduce your consecutive days from five to two, giving you much more average recovery time between sessions and lowering your risk of injury. Recovery time reduces injury rates by giving muscles and connective tissues an opportunity to restore and repair themselves between workouts.

Type A’s should take care

Psychological factors seem to play a role in producing injuries, too. Some studies have shown that athletes who are aggressive, tense, and compulsive have a higher risk of injury than their relaxed peers. Such worried, ‘Type-A’ individuals also have more multiple injuries and lose twice as much training time when an injury actually occurs. So, relax! Tension may make muscles and tendons tauter, increasing the risk that they will be harmed during workouts.

Almost finally, remember that many injuries are caused by weak muscles which simply aren’t ready to handle the specific demands of your sport. This is why people who are starting a running programme for the first time often do fairly well for a few weeks but then – as they add on additional mileage -suddenly develop foot or ankle problems, hamstring soreness, or perhaps low-back pain.

Their bodies simply aren’t strong enough to cope with the demands of the increased training load. For that reason, it’s always wise to couple progressive resistance (weight) training with your regular training. Resistance exercises can fortify muscles and make them less susceptible to damage, especially if the strength – building exercises involve movements that are similar to those associated with the preferred sport. For example, runners who want to improve leg-muscle strength are probably better off performing ‘closed-chain’ (weight- bearing) exercises such as lunges and squats, instead of carrying out non-weight-bearing routines on weight machines while in a seated position. The latter activities are as unlike running as exercises can possibly be!

Make it specific

Strength training should also be specific to your sport. If you play tennis or squash, for example, or participate in a sport which involves throwing an object, you should devote lots of time to developing the muscles in front of the shoulder (anterior deltoids, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, etc.) which increase the force with which you can strike or throw the ball, but you should also work systematically on the muscles in the back of the shoulder, including the trapezius and ‘rotator cuff’ muscles which control and stabilize the shoulder joint during ball-striking actions (and provide most of the force for ‘backhand’ strikes).

Finally, remember that the absolute-best predictor of future injury is a past history of injury, so if you were hurt sometime during 2003, be careful! Your chance of an injury in 2005 is about 25-50 per cent greater, compared to the lucky athlete who managed to stay injury-free this past year.

Article by Dave Spence – Resident coach Cape Town

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