Many student-athletes who have been involved in sports for an extended period of time have experienced a sports-related injury at some point in their athletic career, or have friends and teammates who have been injured.
While some injuries are unavoidable, such as those sustained due to a collision on the field or landing wrong during a practice or competition, many sports-related injuries can be prevented if proper care is taken during training.
Head Athletic Trainer Chris Ryan, who has been leading Drew University’s athletic training department for 22 years, discussed the importance of practicing injury prevention in athletes’ routines, describing it as one of the key domains of the athletic training profession.
According to Ryan, the cardinal rule of sports and athletic training is the progressive overload principle, which essentially states that the best and safest way to increase and improve one’s training is by gradually building up over time.
“My biggest probably pet peeve would be a lot like when a student-athlete…[does] too much too soon. They’re not consistent with their training and they kind of break the overload principle,” Ryan said.
It is essential to have a solid foundation on which to build before an athlete can begin slowly increasing their training, whether that is in the form of lifting heavier weights or running longer distances.
This is especially true for freshman athletes; coming in their first year, they often are not as aware of the need to practice injury prevention and are not as prepared for the switch from high school to college sports regimes in terms of intensity.
One of the greatest factors in ensuring injury prevention is recovery.
“If you go hard a couple of days, you need an easy recovery day just to give your body some rest,” Ryan said, discussing the importance of recovery in athletic training.
Although each sport is different and will cause different types of injuries, there are general steps that athletes across all sports can take to help prevent injuries.
Recovery is especially crucial when it comes to avoiding overuse injuries, as constant exercise and training will wear the body down without giving it the necessary time it needs to repair itself.
“Every time when you’re training, you’re kind of breaking down your tissue, right, you got microtears in your muscles,” Ryan said. Eventually, these microtears will worsen and prevent athletes from training as well as they normally would without proper recovery time.
“Athletes tend to feel a little bit stronger when they get that day or two of rest,” Ryan said.
Mental recovery is also a key part of injury prevention for student-athletes; Ryan described how mental fatigue can place athletes at greater risk of overuse injuries or pushing themselves too far and how sometimes a mental break from training is needed to fully recover.
Ryan went on to discuss how important good nutrition is in preventing injuries as well; it helps provide the body with everything it needs to generate energy and recover from muscle exertion.
Unfortunately, many student-athletes fail to maintain proper nutrition.
It is easy, particularly as a student-athlete in college, to end up skipping a meal or not eating the right foods to sustain one’s body during sports practice.
“We always talk about food is fuel; it’s gas, man,” Ryan said, reiterating the importance of nutrition in injury prevention.
Aside from taking steps to prevent injuries in the first place, there are also clues that suggest that athletes may be overdoing it in their training.
The most obvious would be any pain in the body that starts while training, but athletes may also be pushing themselves too far if they feel themselves becoming tired more easily or are suddenly unable to perform at their usual level.
For example, if an athlete finds themselves unable to run as fast as normal or cannot lift as much weight as usual, they are likely overexerting themselves and are at a greater risk of an overuse injury.
Ryan explained that another way to recognize the possibility of overuse is if an athlete’s resting heart rate is higher than usual; he said that when you are in good physical condition, your resting heart rate will be lower.
Returning to the overall importance of injury prevention and how to keep yourself in the best condition possible to participate in your sport, Ryan had one final key take away: listen to your body.
Charlotte Wells is a junior majoring in English and French.