Injury prevention in younger athletes – What can coaches do? 

Longevity Exercise Physiology Drummoyne,EdgecliffMarrickville,Bella Vista, Randwick, Lindfield and Balmain discuss injury prevention in young athletes.
Too many times we see young athletes overflowing with potential, succumbing to season/career ending injuries. I was one of those athletes- missing an entire year of competing in Aerobic gymnastics due to chronic ankle injuries, ultimately resulting in bilateral ankle reconstructions at the age of 15. But why did this occur? Poor training habits, inadequate recovery protocols, and   biomechanical problems could all be to blame. Since completing my university degrees, and delving into research surrounding rehabilitation and sports medicine I often find myself wondering what I and my coaches could’ve potentially implemented in my training programs to prevent this.
During my fundamental training years, I did very basic strength sessions at gymnastics. Push-ups, sit ups, plyometric circuits you name it- but never was any time spent specifically correcting fundamental movement patterns and making sure strength work was specific to each athletes individual needs before injuries and poor movement habits were developed.  So what could coaches do differently? Promoting education as a tool for emphasising the importance of technique during exercises, along with ensuring coaches properly educated when it comes to basic training principles is essential in reducing their athletes risk of potential injuries . A knowledge of how to optimally prepare an athletes body to sustain maximal training loads, along with regular screenings of functional movements are both have been effective methods used to ensure training programs are specific to an athlete’s needs, and inclusive of all essential pre-habitation and strengthening elements.
So- Where do we start? I’ve put together a list of three common Injuries and  issues that are effecting young athletes that could be potentially avoided with biomechanical corrections and proper pre-rehabilitation/planning.
1.      Ankle instability/Injuries– Seen in almost any sport involving sudden direction change at a high speed (soccer, netball, gymnastics, rugby, tennis, you name it!). Balance exercises some of which include: single leg stances, balancing on unstable surfaces, and balancing with vision impairments are great ways to improve the integrity of the ligaments and tendons in the ankle, along with the stabilising muscles in the lower leg. To increase the difficulty of balance exercises, creating a dual task exercise with the addition of a cognitive exercise (maths equations, spelling words, naming countries) will better replicate the everchanging environment of sport and make the exercise more sport specific.
2.      Nonspecific lower back pain: One that hits close to home for me, and many other gymnasts especially. A “banana back stance” – standing with a sway back or lordosis as it  scientifically referred to can be attributed to weak deep core muscles, along with poor postural habits. Many young athletes are instructed to “squeeze their tummy muscles!” but most of the time all that is occurring is the squeezing of the rectus abdominus (the conventional six-pack) and the athletes holding their breath, rather than the activation of the deeper core muscles (transverse abdominis particularly). Starting from the basics and learning how to activate and isolate your deep core muscles with exercises such as heel taps and dead bugs will allow the body to re-learn how to hold the core in a posture that is less taxing on the lower back. The Inclusion of deep core muscle activation training for young athletes could be the key in preventing avoidable chronic lower back pain as an athletes career progresses!
3.Rounded shoulders/shoulder instability:  Weak rhomboids in combination with tight pectoral muscles. Characteristics that are becoming increasingly more common in many of today’s younger athletes due to increased time spent on devices and a lack of preventative shoulder stability programs in their training. But what’s the issue? This deadly duo has been known to produce chronic neck, back and shoulder pain along with muscle atrophy and weakness when left without correction- which can inhibit an athletes movement patterns, recovery times and overall performance. This is where retraining of the muscles occurs! Just as these  muscle groups have learnt to sit in a rounded position, they can also be retrained to rest in a more comfortable retracted position. A combination of banded rhomboid exercises (focusing on initiating the movement from the mid back rather than the upper trapezius muscles) along with some pectoral (chest) stretching exercises will allow the muscles to move more freely and assist with postural retraining. For more advanced athletes, a kneeling single arm row or a seated low row focusing on relaxing the trapezius muscles will also allow athletes to start  building strength in this position.
For assistance with your exercise program, call 1300 964 002 and speak with a Longevity Exercise Physiologist
Written by Steph Keily

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