What’s the best way to treat an injury?
That’s easy. Never get one in the first place.
Yeah, I scoffed too. But even if your form is textbook perfect, there are multiple factors—like diet, inflexibility, and improper recovery—that put you more at risk for injury. In the first installment of our ‘The Unbreakable Body’ series, we’re talking prevention.
Dr. Chris Bocci and Dr. Jeff Jones, of the Chicago Sports Injury Center, are two badass chiropractors, personal trainers, and sports therapists.
They have trained and rehabilitated numerous professional athletes – so, yeah, they really know their shit.
Read on for a rundown of their best tricks to preventing sports injuries before they happen.
You’re Sitting Around Too Much
“We see a lot of back and neck injuries that stem from patients over-exerting themselves during the weekend after a week of sitting in a chair for 40+ hours,” Dr. Bocci says.
“Our bodies tend to adapt to whatever demands we put them through, so if you sit at your desk for hours on end during the week, your body will not easily adapt to your athletic endeavors on the weekends.”
“Getting up periodically throughout the day just to walk and provide some motion to your joints will do wonders for preventing stiffness and joint restriction.”
The Pain Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story
Experiencing knee pain? The knee isn’t the problem.
“The area of pain is not always the area of dysfunction,” Dr. Jones says. If you’re feeling pain in your elbow, for example, you should focus on mobility in your shoulder and wrist.
“Tendonitis,” Dr. Jones says, “develops because of repetitive motion in a joint that lacks proper biomechanics. Ensuring proper mobility in the joints above and below the area of pain will ensure that the painful area doesn’t have to work overtime and become worn out.”
Do you have patellar tendonitis symptoms? Work on restoring ankle mobility and activating the glutes to control knee movements.
In the arm, tennis elbow usually comes about when you lack the proper shoulder mechanics and don’t know how to properly load the wrist.
“Our bodies are only as good as the fuel we give it. Quality in = Quality out. Strong bones and soft tissues can only be strong if we give them the right building blocks.”
“If we flood our tissues with pro-inflammatory foods (grains, omega-6’s, sugar, refined oils…) we put our bodies at an increased risk of injury and never really tap into the level of performance our bodies are capable of.
If you live in a constant state of inflammation, no multivitamin is going to help you – because your body doesn’t have the ability to absorb them.”
“Your diet shouldn’t just keep you from being hungry, it should work to make you stronger.”
Nutrition is one of your biggest weapons against injury.
It has the biggest impact on your post-workout soreness and speed of recovery. “If you take two athletes and feed one a balanced, anti-inflammatory diet and the other burgers and fries,” Dr. Jones says, “you can bet the athlete eating properly will be far less sore after his/her workouts.”
Spend More Time on Your Weaknesses
Do you have weak ankles? Inflexible hamstrings? Well, you’re not gonna like this.
“Nobody likes to address mobility deficits or work on balance/proprioception, but these are the types of things that keep athletes injury free,” Dr. Bocci says.
If you take the time—just five minutes of each workout—to focus on areas of weakness, you’ll drastically reduce your risk of injury. That’s five minutes closer to being unbreakable.
Try these exercises to strengthen your areas of weakness:
Weak knees: Strengthen hip and core muscles will help decrease the torque placed on your knees. Try the standing glute kickback.
Weak ankles: Work to strengthen the tendons and ligaments around the ankle for built-in defense against sprains. Spend a few minutes balancing on a wobble board, and add a set of bent knee calf raises
Think the elliptical is boring? Your muscles agree.
Diversifying your workout is key to preventing injury (and burnout).
“If all you do is 45 minutes on the elliptical five times per week, you’re bound to have an injury when you decide to play pickup basketball, throw a football, or even bend down to pick up your kid,” Dr. Bocci says. “Variation in the movements you perform will keep your body ready for a multitude of movements that life requires.”
Where to start: Functional fitness routines. Try exercises that replicate everyday movements:
- The box jump: Strengthen the muscles needed to climb stairs like a boss, run for a cab, and dodge slush puddles.
- Deadlifts: Next time a friend asks to help move their couch, you’ll be ready.
- Medicine ball overhead lift: Strengthens the lower back and legs for lifting your toddler, or your (very fat) cat (#nojudgment)
Stop Slacking Off on the Warm Up. Srsly.
“Match your warm-up to your workout,” urges Dr. Jones. “Lots of injuries occur because we don’t give our bodies the proper stimulus to adapt to the stress we are about to put it through. Your warm-up should mimic not only the movements you are doing that day, but also the speed and range of motion you’ll do them with.”
- Doing overhead lifts? Thoracic mobility exercises will do wonders to spare your shoulders.
Wait…”Thoracic”? This middle-back section of the vertebrae allows the spine to bend and twist. The joints of the thoracic spine are important to arm movement, bending over, and most twisting movements.
Try these spine mobility exercises from physiotherapist Jesse Awenus:
Doing heavy lifts? Incorporate breathing and core exercises at the beginning of a workout. The core/deep spinal stabilizers must be primed in order to better handle the heavy weight.
“The worst thing you can do for a seemingly small nagging injury is to assume it will go away,” Dr. Bocci says.
“Pain is a way for your body to tell you that something is wrong.”
“Odds are if you catch it early it’s as simple as a technique flaw or a case of your body needing some mobility/stability work. Consulting with a trainer or physician who is fluent in movement analysis will do the trick for something like that,” Dr. Bocci says.
Foam Rolling FTW
Foam rolling is an excellent tool for helping your body increase range of motion, which drastically reduces injury risk.
“Foam rolling resets the nervous system and primes you to learn new movements,” Dr. Bocci says.
“Use it as a tool to tweak your form. If you’re having trouble at the bottom of your squat or deadlift, use the foam roll to reset the posterior chain and then immediately work your technique while the nervous system is ready to accept new movement.”