As athletes and trainees seek to achieve ever-higher levels of performance, the frustrating aftermath is often a succession of overuse injuries such as tendinitis. Frustrating, because one of the most common solutions to dealing with overuse injuries is rest. To use a popular expression, “You can’t win the game sitting on the bench!”
As overuse injuries start to appear, one common way to deal with the pain and discomfort is to use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This isn’t an ideal solution, however, because inflammation is a natural part of the healing process; drugs that interfere with inflammation should be used with caution and preferably only after consulting with a doctor. Further, in the long term NSAIDs interfere with tendon and muscle repair. As an alternative to NSAIDs, try topical creams that contain natural products such as gotu kola, an herb that speeds wound healing and strengthens connective tissue.
To get a step ahead of drugs and natural alternatives to drugs, you can lower the risk of getting injured in the first place by reducing the amount of stress you impose upon your body. Here are five precautionary and practical ways to do that.
1. Learn proper technique. Whether you’re lifting weights for physical fitness or athletic fitness, you need to learn the proper technique of every exercise you perform to minimize stress on the body. Although hiring a personal trainer to supervise every workout may be beyond your budget, it’s wise to hire a knowledgeable trainer for a few sessions to teach you how to lift properly. If you’re a weekend warrior, invest in some private lessons from a pro. For example, if you’re a tennis player, pay for a few sessions to learn the best mechanics for not only hitting harder but also minimizing the stress on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
2. Restore structural balance. Along with learning proper technique, you need to become structurally balanced to reduce your risk of injury. Consider getting a PICP structural balance assessment to identify flexibility and strength imbalances, which are more common than you may realize. The shoulder is the body part most commonly injured from resistance training, as reported in a study published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. A structural balance assessment will look at the strength imbalances between the muscles that internally and externally rotate the shoulder, as well as at individual muscles such as the biceps – especially the long head of this muscle group – that can influence shoulder health.
In the case of knee injuries, if the knees buckle inward as a person runs or jumps, this could suggest an imbalance between the adductor and abductor muscles of the legs. It could also indicate a weakness in the vastus medialis oblique, a quadriceps muscle that is essential for helping the kneecap to track properly. When you are tested for structural balance, your practitioner may use the Klatt test, a dynamic movement test designed by Lois Klatt, PhD. How an individual performs on this test can identify specific muscles that are relatively weak; the practitioner can then prescribe appropriate corrective exercises to restore structural balance.
3. Stretch smart. Use appropriate stretching techniques to ensure optimal range of motion, reduce muscle tension, and promote proper lifting and sport mechanics. Keep in mind that being able to express extreme range of motion in a static stretch does not mean that same range of motion can be expressed in a dynamic athletic movement. In other words, the ability to bend like a pretzel is not the same as being prepared for sports or fitness activities. You’ll need to perform a variety of stretching methods; one effective approach is to perform dynamic stretches before training, and static stretching methods after training.
4. Vary your exercises. Performing the same strength training exercises in the same manner, especially isolation exercises, can increase the risk of overuse injuries. Of special concern is the use of machine exercises, as many machines work the muscles in one fixed movement pattern that places high levels of stress on the joints. As a general rule do not perform more than 20 percent of your training with machines.
5. Consider soft-tissue work. Although you may think a soft-tissue practitioner is useful only if you’re in pain, getting body work when you are healthy is actually a good investment. Even if you have great technique and are following a sound lifting program, it’s possible to develop soft-tissue adhesions that can affect your biomechanics and thus increase your risk of injury. Some soft-tissue techniques to consider are Active Release™, the Fascial Abrasion Technique Tool, and also Fascial Stretch Therapy™.
When it comes to injuries, prevention is infinitely preferable to rehab. Start your personal injury-proofing program by following these precautionary recommendations so you can get off the bench and stay strong.