Photography by Bev Childress of Fort Worth, Texas
I am a big fan of exercise and as a chiropractor, I see a great many sports-related injuries that could have been prevented. No one who loves their game, whatever it may be, wants to take time off due to injuries or to slow down their progress by being forced to alter their schedule to allow damaged tissue to heal.
The adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure certainly applies here and there is no denying that no matter how careful you are, injuries happen, but I can tell you that in my practice, the clear majority of injuries could have been prevented if only a few simple habits
were changed, or rules followed.
Sufficient Warm Up
Many of the injuries I see are the result of inadequate warm-up programs or practices. It’s been suggested that as much as 30% of all sports-related injuries are due to a lack of a cohesive warm-up program.
The available information on warm-up programs is contradictory. One meta-analysis showed that out of five qualifying studies, three found that warm-ups are effective, while two other studies concluded that warm-up programs made no difference. A separate study found that warm-up programs were helpful in preventing injuries yet excessive stretching predisposed an athlete to injury.
Why are there conflicting results? It can be difficult to manage the variables, as well finding a direct causal relationship between warm-up programs and the actual injury involved.
However, a fairly new warm-up program, designed by FIFA for professional soccer players, has proven research behind it, demonstrating that proper warm up programs can prevent injuries.
While a study of warm-ups and female soccer players, the results cannot be denied. These results also coincide with what I have found to be true in my own practice; bodybuilders and other athletes who consistently practice warming up before exercise have fewer injuries, especially avoiding severe injuries.
A proper warm-up routine should include 2-3 minutes of cardio, such as jumping rope, both static and dynamic stretching, foam rolling areas that are a problem for the individual, and warm up programs that target specific areas pre-exercise. For example, if you are going to bench press, begin with a few lighter weights, gradually increasing the weight until you reach your goal.
Maintaining Proper Form
You might be shaking your head thinking this is a no-brainer, but I bet you’ve seen plenty of improper form at the gym. Bouncing, jerking, or heaving weights can do serious damage to your connective tissue.
Unlike muscles, connective tissue, such as tendons, take far longer to heal.
The weakest link, if you will, in the body is the connective tissue. No matter how strong the muscle, it is limited by the amount of force the tendon can handle. Ligaments are also a problem as they stabilize every joint involved in lifting.
Why do tendons and ligaments take so much longer to heal than muscle? They have a very small blood supply. Blood is what removes old, damaged tissue while bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients for healing. While muscles have a terrific blood supply, connective tissue doesn’t— which means a broken bone can heal in 6 weeks, a torn tendon can take 9-12 months.
For bodybuilders, proper form should ensure that the muscle is stressed enough so it will respond by growing while keeping the body positioned so the muscles, especially the connective tissue, are kept in a position of strength.
There are several ways to maintain proper form, including using a mirror, exercising in front of an experienced trainer or chiropractor, or hiring a personal trainer certified in weightlifting technique.
You can also improve the strength of your connective tissue by performing workout routines specifically designed to increase the blood supply to the tendons and ligaments, improving not only their function but increasing the size of the blood vessel which feeds them, which will encourage faster healing if they should become damaged.
Sufficient Recovery Time
Recovery is perhaps one of the least liked, and therefore least practiced, aspects of bodybuilding. During periods of rest, the body rebuilds, repairs, strengthens and restores cell glycogen, glucose, and energy enzymes.
While it seems counterintuitive, the fact remains that not allowing the body sufficient time to recover can actually decrease strength levels.
In fact, not only does overtraining lead to less strength, but a lack of sleep does as well. A meta-analysis of 17 studies found that a lack of quality sleep reduced overall physical performance.
Experts are again at odds as to whether training twice a week or three times a week should be considered the maximum effort, so I often tell my clients that they should pay attention to their bodies. If they feel rested after 48 hours or if they need 72 hours, then that is the schedule they should follow.
Some of the bodybuilders I have dealt with are all about protein. When asked about their diet, I hear about protein shakes, protein bars, and protein-based meals. I’m not knocking protein, but I always must ask, how about your vitamin C intake? Fish oil? Fat intake? Gelatin supplements?
As I discussed in maintaining proper form, muscle strength is only as good as the tendons and ligaments that support them. Consuming gelatin or cartilage supplements help to replace the lost collagen that happens as we age.
Vitamin C is necessary for the metabolism of protein and collagen. If you aren’t getting enough vitamin C, you aren’t doing all that you can to help your body utilize all that protein, but you aren’t keeping the connective tissue as strong as possible, thus preventing injury. Aim for 100mg each day.
Fat gets a bad rap from mainstream health sources, but it plays an important role in preventing injuries, although the science behind why isn’t completely understood. One study found that runners who consumed 30% of their calories from fat had fewer injuries than those who did not. In fact, this study found that the less fat a subject consumed, the more prone they were to injury.
You might have read that an increasing number of studies show that the Omega-3’s found in fish oil are vital for those suffering from head injuries, including sports-related injuries, but did you know that this essential amino acid can speed up recovery time after lifting, prevent inflammation, increase muscle size, and make those muscles you work so hard for work better via improved signal function?
Chiropractic adjustments improve the lines of communication between the brain and the muscle, similar to removing kinks from a garden hose, but Omega-3 is like oiling the inside of the hose, allowing the transfer of energy to move faster, which leads to improved muscle function.
You can avoid injury and reduce recovery time when you consume a complete diet, not one focused on protein alone.
Interpreting Pain Signals
Pain is our body’s way of telling us that something isn’t right. Sometimes, pain can be from something as simple as being dehydrated. Other times, it can be an early warning sign that something is terribly wrong or is about to go from a minor injury to a major one.
A great many weightlifters ignore those early warning signs, hoping it will go away or they are confident that they can push through the pain. Both are usually bad ideas.
The one true “good” type of pain is the kind you feel from muscles that have been worked hard and have a buildup of lactic acid. Those other types of pain, such as a sharp stab in the elbow, a dull ache in the front of the knee, or that twinge in your lower back?
Those are signs that, at the very least, stop doing the exercise you are currently doing and try a different one. If the pain returns or becomes worse during your next workout routine, then it’s time to see your chiropractor or other healthcare professional.