Written by Trudy Despain (last updated August 23, 2013)
The statement "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is probably applicable in every faucet of life. If you've ever had to take the time to recover from a spring sports injury, you have likely learned the true value of prevention. A common injury athletes face is overuse injuries caused by repetitive use of a specific joint, muscle or muscle group. While common, this type of injury is usually preventable with targeted stretches and strength training.
In sports like golf and tennis, an athlete repetitively puts demands on specific muscle groups. When muscles are overworked and fatigued, they shorten. Like a domino effect, once a muscle shortens, neighboring muscles have to work harder to compensate, eventually becoming fatigued and shortening. This shortening causes reduced range of motion and increases an athlete's chance of muscle pulls, strains and tears.
The answer to preventing injury from muscle imbalance is basically two-fold. The first is to stretch, stretch and stretch some more to prevent the fatigued muscle from shortening. Static stretching is one of the easiest methods of lengthening muscles. To apply static stretching to a muscle, simply perform a stretch to the furthest point possible and then hold that position for a specified amount of time. One example of a static stretch is a sitting hamstring stretch. Sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front, bend at the waste reaching your fingers toward your toes. When you have reached the point that the position is placing slight discomfort on your hamstrings, hold that position for 20 to 30 seconds then slowly roll back up to the upright position. Most importantly, do not bounce when performing static stretches. The stretching and jerking motion may cause shortened, fatigued muscles to spasm or even worse, to tear.
The second ingredient in preventing injury from muscle imbalance is to condition all of the muscles properly so that one muscle or muscle group is not doing greater work than the accompanying or opposing muscle group. The muscles in your body generally serve two purposes: propulsion and control. While one set of muscles is working in one direction, the opposing set of muscles is working to control the movement in that direction. Consider the action required to kick a soccer ball. As one set of muscles is working to propel the leg toward the ball, another set of muscles is working to control the speed of the swing. A problem occurs when one set of muscles develops and strengthens beyond the opposing muscles. The dominant muscles become fatigued or joints surrounding the muscles are injured because the muscles are pulling the joints out of alignment.
Preventing muscle injuries and joint pain can be as simple as a visit to your physical therapist, doctor or personal trainer who can suggest exercises that will strengthen weak muscles and stretches that will lengthen and release tension in fatigued muscles. If you are currently experiencing pain, be sure to contact your doctor before beginning any stretching or strengthening routine to prevent further injury.
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