To Your Health
October, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 10)
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Playing to Win: Injury Prevention Is the Key

By Alex Guerrero

With nearly 12,000 rushing yards, San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson is on track to become the National Football League's most prolific runner. He's starting his ninth year in the league and is less than 7,000 rushing yards (four to five seasons) short of the all-time career mark, held by former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith. A former MVP of the NFL, LaDainian owns or shares 28 Chargers team records and holds the NFL record for most total touchdowns scored in a single season. And none of it happened by accident.

While LaDainian has suffered his share of injuries over the years (including last year), he's stayed remarkably healthy in a sport (and at a position) that features constant physical contact. After all, he's already played for eight years when the average NFL player's career is only 3.5 years. So, how's he done it? The same way you can do it. It's all about injury prevention. Whether you're an All-Pro running back like L.T. or a weekend warrior, the goal is the same: You undoubtedly want to lower your chances of incurring an injury while participating in your favorite sport. Fortunately, there are some general rules for injury prevention that apply to all sports, which is important because sports scientists suggest injury rates could be reduced by 25 percent if athletes took appropriate preventative action. Here are a few tips on how to stay healthy and reduce your risk of suffering an injury.

The #1 Rule: Don't Overdo It

LaDainian Tomlinson with football - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The amount of training you do plays a key role in determining your real injury risk. Studies have shown that your best direct injury predictor may be the amount of training you completed last month. Fatigued muscles do a poor job of protecting their associated connective tissues, increasing the risk of damage to bone, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. If you are a runner, the link between training quantity and injury means total mileage is an excellent indicator of your injury risk. The more miles you accrue per week, the higher the chances of injury. One recent investigation found a marked upswing in injury risk above 40 miles of running per week. Of course, this can be minimized and often avoided by regular chiropractic and massage therapy treatments, along with getting adequate rest between training sessions. The point isn't to avoid exercise, but rather to appreciate that overdoing it can lead to injury, and that when your muscles are fatigued, they need rest. It's about knowing what your body can handle at any particular point in time.

Says LaDainian: "I know my body real well and I know exactly what I need to do and when to get in shape. I start a couple of weeks after the last game. You get broken down, and you get weak [during the season], so I start with the basics: core, hips, shoulders, and then I move into the more functional stuff, building strength through movement." L.T. and other professional athletes also use an anti-inflammatory cream before and after physical activity to minimize pain and overuse injuries.

If You Can Predict an Injury, You May Avoid an Injury

If you have been injured before, you are much more likely to get hurt again than an athlete who has been injury free. Regular exercises have a way of uncovering the weak areas of the body. If you have knees that are put under heavy stress because of your unique biomechanics during exercise, your knees are likely to hurt when you engage in your sport for a prolonged time. After recovery, if you re-establish your desired training load without modification to your biomechanics, your knees are likely to be injured again. In layperson's terms, that means figuring out why you got injured in the first place and how to avoid it from happening again.

The second predictor of injury is probably the number of consecutive days of training you carry out each week. Scientific studies strongly suggest that reducing the number of consecutive days of training can lower the risk of injury. Recovery time reduces injury rates by giving muscles and connective tissues an opportunity to restore and repair themselves between workouts.