Sports activity is the number one cause of injury in adolescents and young adults. This alone underlines the importance of an effective injury prevention plan, yet, further emphasis is likely needed.
Injuries will undoubtedly have the potential to affect the mental mindset of the athlete. In addition, they also can majorly affect a person’s long-term health and well-being, not to mention the potential implications on the healthcare system, economic environment, and other routine relationships depending on the severity and long-term outlook of rehabilitation.
The importance of having an effective injury prevention protocol, especially as a competitive athlete, is undeniable.
What follows will be a discussion of injury prevention. We’ll begin by outlining what an injury prevention protocol is and how to develop one. We’ll then touch on the most common causes of sports injuries and why a preventative plan is relevant. Lastly, we’ll share the details of some of the most effective injury prevention protocols that you can begin to implement into your physical health regimen.
What is an Injury Prevention Protocol?
An injury prevention protocol is a proactive plan that helps athletes avoid both major and minor injuries and minimize the risk of injury. Fewer overall injuries are the ultimate goal of such a program.
Injury prevention involves a modification of risk factors and focusing on external factors that are within one’s control. For example, an improved diet, increased hydration, and improved sleep may reduce the risk of injury.
Injury protocols are most effective when used in conjunction with individualized strength and conditioning programs. However, it's also important to know that the use of an injury prevention protocol is based on the athlete’s functional capability, compliance, and attitude toward change. An injury prevention protocol can be implemented in both the short term (hours or days) and long term (weeks or months).
Flexibility is important in injury prevention programs because athletes will not necessarily follow all recommendations, for example, if they feel uncomfortable trying something new or if they don’t believe that a particular strategy actually works.
Injury prevention programs must eventually adapt to the athlete.
Understanding what injuries are most common in your given sport and learning how those injuries are most commonly caused is, at its most basic, how you begin to develop an actionable injury prevention protocol.
The most common sports injuries are:
- Dislocations & Separations
- Ligament Tears
- Tendon Ruptures
The most common causes of sports injuries include:
- Poor Technique or Form
- Being in Poor Physical Health (inflexible, tight, stiff, overweight, immobile)
- Lack of Muscular Strength
- Lack of Stretching (no warm-up or cool down during activity)
- Wearing Improper Gear or Lack of Protective Gear
- Impact & Collision
- Accidental Fall
While athletes can create and implement a preventative plan on their own, it’s likely more beneficial to consult with a doctor or specialized physician to get their recommendations and take advantage of their professional supervision and monitoring capabilities.
Effective Injury Prevention Protocols
From a medical standpoint, developing and implementing an effective injury prevention protocol requires a multifaceted approach.
Not only do you need to analyze the data surrounding a given injury, but you also need to understand the population and demographic you’re dealing with, the available resources, and the most effective plan to achieve the goal of prevention.
Once you’ve identified the goals and objectives of the prevention protocol, it’s now time to develop the plan and take action. By choosing the most effective protocols discussed below, the athlete will have the best chance to reduce the risk of injury and, at best, prevent it altogether.
Below are the most effective injury prevention protocols for athletes:
- Consistent Strength Training Program
- Structured Stretching Regimen (Warmup, Cooldown)
- Foam Rolling
- Proprioceptive Training Program (Balance, Coordination, Agility, Plyometrics, Functional Movement)
- Physical Therapy
- Manual Therapy
- Ensure Proper Technique
- Utilizing Protective Equipment
- Avoid Overtraining
- Proper Rest
- Contrast Therapy
It’s important to note that multiple different protocols can be used for any given injury because of so many multitudes of injury types and severity levels.
The good news is that most injury prevention protocols require a similar strategy. By taking a holistic approach to self-care, being proactive with implementation, and remaining consistent with the protocol elements, you give yourself the best chance at success.
Additionally, a sports medicine physician's specialized input for suitable recommendations, guidance, and supervision is extremely beneficial.
As always, the best medicine is prevention. At its most basic, the easiest yet most effective way to prevent sports-related injuries is to stretch, warm up consistently, and cool down.
Recovery is a pillar of sports performance and sports medicine, and without it, injuries are almost guaranteed to occur.
By taking the necessary steps outlined in this article, focusing on stretching, hydration and nutrition, proper technique, and the elimination of overtraining, you give yourself the best chance at reducing the risk of injury.