This time of year we see a remarkable influx of muscle strains at our clinic as a result of everyone returning to the soccer fields, tennis courts, ball fields, and golf courses to enjoy the sports they love.
Sprains and strains can happen to the best of us, but remember there are definitely ways to significantly reduce the risk of sustaining a muscle strain or joint sprain.
Many of you would agree that in order to help reduce risk of straining a muscle when you return to your sport, that it is necessary to warm up prior to the game or practise. But are you sure your warm-up is effective and even safe for your muscles?
Yes, studies have shown that increasing joint range of motion by increasing muscle flexibility (by stretching) does reduce the risk of injury (Cross&Worrell, Hartig&Henderson). However, there are many different stretching methods, and some are more safe and effective in preventing injuries than others depending on how and when you perform them. For simplicity, we will discuss 2 stretching methods that most people are familiar with: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching is when muscle action produces active movement to result in a stretch, such as with gradually deepening walking lunges or gradually increasing amplitude of arm circles. Static stretching is when muscle groups are placed in a lengthened position and then held for a prolonged period (30 seconds) where no movement occurs.
Studies have shown that dynamic stretching is preferred over static stretching prior to a sport or activity to improve performance and decrease risk of injury during performance. However, Static stretching is instrumental in increasing overall joint range of motion, therefore decreasing risk of injury, and is most safe and beneficial when performed when muscles are WARM, typically after the activity.
So, if you head straight out onto the field or court and start static stretching (as we find out so many active people do!) without properly warming up first, you are likely wasting your time and are NOT preventing a muscle strain at all! In fact, if you are stretching cold muscles, you are increasing your risk of straining the muscle even just while you are stretching.
So, let’s look at what a healthy, safe, and effective pre-game or activity warm-up should look like:
Ensure your body is warm. Dynamically warm-up first by performing some movements that will slowly increase your heart rate, body temperature, and joint range of motion: brisk walking, deep walking lunges, jumping jacks, arm circles, sideways shuffle, skip, leaps, ‘high knees’, controlled leg swings/kicks, etc. Follow with a few sport specific drills, but start easy with low intensity, and ease into higher intensity and larger joint ranges of motion (ball throwing, soccer kicks, tennis drills, etc). Finally, choose some advanced sport-specific drills that will challenge your coordination, agility and balance. Once you are warm and have worked up a sweat, you could then perform a few prolonged static stretches to any muscle groups that you know are problem areas for you.
Then, it is essential to follow up with a post-game cool down regime. Many people skip this part, and it is JUST as important in preventing injuries as the dynamic warm-up, as this is what keeps your muscle lengths long enough to withstand the wide ranges of motion your joints will be taking you in next time you play! So, please perform your static stretches (at least 30 second holds) to all major muscle groups, particularly ones that are problem areas for you or are sport-specific, during your cool down. If you need some guidance as to which stretches (dynamic and static) may be most suitable for your body and your sport, please don’t hesitate to visit your physiotherapist. He or she may also include other stretching methods that may be beneficial for you.
Shelly Prosko is a Registered Physiotherapist, Yoga Therapist, and Pilates Instructor at Sun City Physiotherapy Winfield. She can be contacted at the Winfield clinic (250.766.2544) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.