Top 5 Weaknesses of an Injured Athlete
Instead of focusing on skills, this week we are turning our attention to the hallmarks of disaster.
These are the Top 5 mistakes that I hear my athletes telling me that they have made, over and over as they fall into issues of self-control, perpetual injury and failure in building themselves back up without injury. Read on to avoid these potholes and have an injury free season.
1. Unreasonable expectations.
We can call this the basic "Expecting the impossible". Let's rephrase this as not putting in the work and assuming you are going to have the outcome you want. With COVID, many of us have taken time off of our usual routine, or we are out of our comfort zone in regards to where we are now in our training plan (if you follow one).
-You might have taken a few years off your sport and expect to bounce back without another re-introduction to your body. Disaster strikes.
-Perhaps you did the same race last year and the year before, and the year before that and you feel that your base is big enough that you don't have to train? I've made that mistake. Stress fracture central.
Meeting your body where it is is the HARDEST thing to do as an athlete. We often have to step back and begin with the exercises and supportive endurance that isn't what drives us to peruse the sport we love. We want action! Racing! Endorphins! Adrenaline! Excitement! Speed! And our poor body is wondering what is going on. Unreasonable expectations, in regards to timelines, preparedness, hard efforts can causes damage to ligaments and tendons (and even bones) that aren't used to the excessive or inordinate loads that you decide to put into them on one day.
An example would be to not move at ALL during the day, sitting at that desk like a zombie and then taking that static, tight, stiff body and asking it to flex and bend and jump without a warm-up. It happens all the time. This is where supportive exercises to prepare your body for the unexpected. If it is part of your routine, no problem (this is how crossfit works), but if its new to you, be gentle and don't forget the introductions. Hello body, this is exercise. Hello exercise, we meet again. Wait, its new this time...
Miraculously, cross fit athletes get injured WAY less than other forms of athletes when exposed to new activities. Their bodies are acclimated to expect the unexpected. For the rest of us (or those of you JUST starting new routines, suspension system training (LOVE), or are getting back on that bike, please ease into it.
Keep in mind that most of my clients get injured after taking time off, for a baby, for a new job, and once they get back to only 40 miles a week, disaster strikes. This is the fail zone of where you not having your training plan in order creates a real issue. After a few years off, your tissues are likely NOT the same tissues that were there during your last long adventure. Soft tissue replaces itself every 4-6 years and bone every 6-8. You might have a whole new skeleton and muscles/tendons who don't remember ever seeing these loads like they are currently.
2. Goals don't match "Tissue Preparedness"
Anther huge pothole that athletes fall into that creates injury is not realizing that they are asking more than their body can handle in regards to tissue architecture. The thickness and strength of our tissues does not match our friends. Some of it is genetic, most of it is acquired with use (not forgetting diet and sleep).
Fun fact. The body actually remolds itself (tendon, bone, muscle) for the exact sport that one does!
For example, running on trails prepares the body for muscular patterning involving foot and hip stability for those big steps up and down and the ever changing camber of trails (with their obstacles). Those who do not have strong stability can see tendonitis and stress fractures. Did you know that many fractures of the lower leg involve tendinous tugging on the bone and not the impact of the foot hitting the ground? We see this in shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
It takes pressure over time to get a body used to high loads, and it might take 4-6 years of training to be fully prepared to go hog-wild in your favorite endeavor. This is why goals not matching tissue preparedness is a HUGE risk factor for injury.
Every step is your body getting used to the vibrational load and the tension of tendons tugging on bones.
Each hour of training teaches muscle endurance to support your bones and joints and stability to ensure alignment continues without fatigue. Injuries pop up like weeds when fatigue destroys stability and alignment. This is the point at which you should return home and prepare for tomorrow (or next week).
3. Getting Over Excited
The third most common weakness of an injured athlete is the patterning of getting over excited during exercise. If its a race, its expected, but during a normal day of exercise, this risk factor can create a monster of an injury. One of the top 5 mistakes I see athletes of all sports make, its something to keep a constant eye on when you are having a great day and here's why.
It's fun to have fun out there but what we shouldn't let it dictate what we are doing with our exercise.
Too much pump means doing things that might not benefit your body.
Examples of getting over excited would be:
--Adding more weight on than planned or expected
--Planning on going out for an easy day, only to decide early on to go hard. Again.
--That easy run becoming the year's fast run, long run, the hill run, or all of your runs in one?
Those who usually make this mistake are often over excited about making gains in their sport, or they have a short window to get out and get going (like if you are a parent, or responsible for tasks that take most of your time... and then you finally have that window of opportunity!!) Hallmarks of this group include those who Listen to pump up music (and let it dictate their activity level). Drinking too much caffeine prior to exercise. Any form of chemical "upper" will make you less likely to listen to your body and more likely to fall prey to an injury. The chemical effect on the body of being pumped up overrides the bodies natural communication method to let you know you've done too much. The body makes natural pain killers that override your senses. Don't get carried away...
4. Not having effective rest days.
Often, these athletes suffer from the area of injury being loaded even when they think they are resting it… Activity Avoidance. Days off mean resting the area just pushed. If you worked your arms and fingers hard (and are a rock climber) the last thing you want to do is play video games or work with a hammer on your off day. You can, but it doesn't count as true rest. And many don't understand that we improve the most on our off days. Our body heals, repairs and designs itself to be better at what you just did to injure it. A proper recovery means a better body.
Effective Rest Days Incorporate:
--Unloading areas that needs rest
--Focusing energy on weak or atrophied zones (core)
--Doubling down on diet and hydration
--Evaluating for overtraining or injury (rollers, stretching, mobility work)
On your rest days you can also work on unloading the region with stretching. Begin delving through the tissue layers, layer by layer, creating softness, relaxation and true healing with foam rollering, yin yoga, hydration, eating vitamins, sleeping well. Etc.
Though we are physically RESTING the areas of your injury that were loaded the most during your heavy day, we are also mechanically working nearby areas, and moving them to strengthen them to ensure mobility and functionality of your injured region once it is healed. If we do not, stiffness and tightness remain. (Did you know that any tissues that are tight or rigid near your injury can transfer load by as much as 40% via fascia into your injury? This is often the culprit of difficult to heal injuries).
5. "Worry-stoning" Sore tender areas
Don't be the athlete who beats up a sore tender area that is bothering you. I have stopped many tennis layers and climbers who rub their finger injury daily thinking it is helping the healing process. Or rubbing it daily to check on its tenderness level. These areas are a sign that your body needs healing in them and often, this additional irritation (if beyond holding and pressing with a triggerpoint therapy tool such as a roller or tennis ball) will create the response that we DONT want.
--Press, hold on the region (if muscular) to allow the muscles to soften
--Rub icy hot, tiger balm or apply kinesiotape to the region as a form of "brain training' to help it to heal
--Look nearby to evaluate if it is cheating or guarding for a nearby lesser muscle. The hamstring will guard for the low back, the calf for the arch, the neck for the shoulder.
--Friction back-and-forth over the area
-- Repeatedly rub circles over it
-- Hit it (if a focal region) with TheraGuns or HyperIces or any other aggressive pointy thumper machine.
If you need to, come get checked out to help you to learn where to look and to work to untangle this problem area before it becomes an injury.
General rule of thumb : You can work around any pinpoint areas to unload them without irritating tendonitis, bursitis or a number of other culprits of pain and inflammation. Focally beating up the achy tender spot could creating more friction, inflammation and pain and should be avoided unless recommended by your healthcare team.
After covering this information, hopefully this helps you NOT to fall for the top 5 weaknesses of an injured athlete. These weaknesses are often systemic failures to ones goals and training plans. It might help to write them down or to put a note in your gear so you remember why you are out there and what you should be avoiding (or focusing on). Mantras are great! Playing for years to come is the goal ;-)
Dr. Lisa Brin DC
Dr. Lisa Brin, formerly Dr. Lisa Erikson is a sports chiropractor specializing in rehabilitative medicine and recovery of injuries that refuse to heal. There is no wrong question when it involves getting your healthcare team to step up and to support your needs. New to the Gunnison Valley, Dr Brin does acupuncture, physiotherapy, home-care exercise programs, and in-office muscle aid to assist your journey to to that next race record, or that first lap around the block. A skier and runner, Dr. Lisa has also learned herself from many of the injury mistakes outlined above.
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If you would like to discuss a failure in your own preparation for sport, or a chronic injury you need help avoiding, feel free to reach out to begin the conversation. I am always taking new patients who are active in their healthcare and willing to participate as a team-player in their improvement.