Over the last two months I have been researching the possible cause of the many lower body injuries in women. I know that injuries are a part of sports and being athletic. Nevertheless, I have become concerned with the number of female friends who have had some unique & severe injuries. The number of calf injuries among women my age is rising. You can tell when a person has suffered a calf injury recently or in the past because they now wear compression socks to help prevent being re-injured. The questions that came into my head were: How are these women working out? What they are doing outside of tennis that may be increasing their risk of injury? Are they stretching? Are they strength training? Are their muscles particularly tight and shortened?
For many adults, the muscles on the posterior side of our bodies (aka the backside) are often tight, shortened or underused. We tend to focus our exercises, our functional activities and most of our day on the front side of our bodies. The way we sit and work at desks and drive our cars, the strength exercises we perform, the cardiovascular activities we choose are often ones that involve the anterior or the front of our bodies. If the posterior side of our bodies are tight and we decided to play sports that ask for significant lateral, forward and backward movements (ie: tennis, basketball, soccer, etc…), HOW will our bodies perform?
I have been involved in sports my whole life and began playing tennis a year ago at 40 years old. When you are a part of a team as a kid or taking a fitness class, the instructor or coach is directed to get the team to warm up before they play and also to stretch afterwards. As adults, we RARELY do this…(I am as guilty as the rest of you). In college while playing lacrosse, the head trainer realized that a increasing number of girls were tearing their ACL’s (knee injury) during sports like soccer, lacrosse and basketball. He found that if they performed certain warm-up exercises before practice or a game, these severe injuries declined significantly. You can now see his research being incorporated in many female sports programs all over the country. His research is what has me concerned with the number of injuries in women out of college.
Playing competitive sports with significant lateral and stop & go movements are already increasing the risk of injury, but there are many ways we can reduce that risk and continue playing.
Everyone needs to ask themselves these questions:
- Are you performing dynamic stretching before you play?
- Is your fitness program supporting your lifestyle or sport?
- Is your nutritional need being met?
- Are you stretching and cooling down properly afterwards?
I am a realist and know that most adults are rushing to their game or match right before it begins and afterwards are pouring a beer to celebrate their friendships off the court or field. Nevertheless, I feel that with the recent spike in achilles, calf and hamstring injuries, we NEED to reevaluate our routines. Even if you can add just one of these into your workout, your body will thank you! (I am going to use tennis as the sport for these suggestions)
- Warmup: add in a dynamic warmup! This means move around, don’t just stand there and stretch your quads & hamstrings. Jog around the court 1 or 2 times and get the blood flowing, side shuffle your feet back and forth along the baseline 1 or 2 times, high knee skip up and back along the baseline 1 or 2 times.
- Make sure that your fitness routine supports your sport! If you play tennis or basketball or other sports that involve a lot of lateral movement and twisting, then your fitness routine should also incorporate these movements. Make sure that your strength workouts do not focus only on lineal movements, add in side lunges and side hops or slides to your routine. Also, make sure that your core is STRONG! Your core should be engaged in every movement (even if it is a lower or upper body move). If your core is engaged, your whole body is committed to the move and this can reduce your risk of injury.
- Stretch your lower body, most importantly your calves & hamstrings.
- Standing Heel Raises: while standing, raise up on your toes and release back down
- Wall Calf Stretch: Leaning against a wall with your hands, step one leg back and stretch, switch legs.
- Step Stretch (A): Standing on a step, alternate dropping a heel off the back of the step.
- Step Stretch (B): Standing in front of a step, place toes up on the rise of the step, keeping the heel on the ground, lean in for a deeper stretch.
- Ankle Rotations: Rotate each ankle around in circles (both directions) as well as flex and extend your toes (point & flex).
4. Pay Attention To Your Body! Listen to what your body is telling you. There is a difference between “acknowledgment” & “pain”. Being sore at times is a normal part of a good fitness routine, nevertheless, your body may be telling you something. If there is a muscle or muscle group that is excessively sore or you feel pain, slow down and reevaluate your fitness plan. Remember that we are involved in recreational activities and not professionals. Also make sure that you are well hydrated and fueled for your match or practice and after wards you are refueling your body. If you don’t take care of your body, you will miss out on its greatness!
5. Cool Down & Stretch (& Ice, if needed)! As good as that cold beer or glass of chilled chardonnay sounds right after your match, you have to give your body time to recover. Stretch your upper and lower body afterwards and if there is a muscle or muscle group that is giving you some feedback, ice it! You can sit down, enjoy your adult beverage, ice you muscle and ask your friends to join you.
*** Originally I planed on only writing this blog about injury prevention. As I was collecting information & talking to other professionals I was led to the topic of a second blog – Trainers need to get over themselves!