Many people get put off by the term ‘sports injury’ and think that it only applies to top level athletes and not to them. So they may avoid visiting a therapist who works in a ‘sports injuries’ clinic or a doctor who advertises themselves as being an expert in ‘sports injuries’.
The reality is that in most cases the damage done in a ‘sports injury’ is actually exactly the same as the damage done if you injure your shoulder painting a ceiling or falling down the stairs; there is no difference at all between Bradley Wiggins’ broken collar bone suffered on the Tour de France last year and yours sustained tripping over the cat, and the tendonitis you have after cutting the hedges is no different from that Sharipova developed serving at 100 mph.
So let’s not be put off by the ‘sports injuries’ label.
That’s not to say that sports don’t cause injuries because they most certainly do. The main brunt of this article is to talk about ways to minimise the chance of you injuring your shoulder or elbow whilst trying to keep fit or doing the sport you love.
Sadly some injuries are unavoidable and nothing you do in terms of preparation, equipment and training will prevent those. That, as they say, is life.
But many injuries are preventable and more often than not you will know what you should have done to prevent the injury in the first place.
Did you warm up before teeing off at the monthly Medal with your new driver or did you rush from the car park, swish it around your ears twice and then hit the ball as hard as you could and wonder why you tweaked your shoulder?
Did you join the gym, do the 15 minute obligatory introductory course and then start jacking up the weights until your shoulder gave out?
I know all this sounds familiar - I have been there too and have failed to practice what I preach.
What this section is mainly about therefore is to give some advice on how to prevent injuring yourself when you are playing sport. We all know the mantra about how exercising keeps the heart and lungs healthy but that isn’t going to be a lot of good if you end up damaging your shoulder or elbow. Choose the right sport for you.
One of the reasons the old USSR won so many gold medals (apart from the steroids of course) was that they very carefully selected people who had the correct body shape and physiology for each sport. So if you are a 60kg man then shot-putting is probably not for you, whereas you may be great cyclist or sculler. Obviously at our amateur ‘I’m doing this for fun’ level we don’t need to be that extreme but do be realistic about your body shape, degree of flexibility and whether you are a short, sharp shock athlete or more of a stamina athlete and do try and match these. However at an average level most people can play most sports and if it’s what you love regardless of how badly you do it – then keep on doing it. But nobody should ever do Body Pump! This is an evil gym class that causes so many shoulder problems.
Just don’t do it. You are not Rory McIlroy or Rafa Nadal or Victoria Pendleton.
Sorry to break the bad news but these guys have reached the peak of their sport because they are special, unique and one of a kind – or at least one of just a few of a kind. One of the biggest causes of upper limb sports injuries that I see is people being coached into the style of these world-class athletes by rather over enthusiastic trainers. If you haven’t made it by now then you aren’t going to win The Open, or Wimbledon or Olympic gold. So be realistic about what you are going to achieve and develop what you have within those limits so that you can improve and reach a higher level without trying to swing like Tiger Woods. However if your coach spots that you really are tragically awful then it is fair to start again from scratch.
Select the right equipment.
You probably wouldn’t wear a pair of shoes that are too small but many people are happy to use sports equipment that is simply the wrong size for them. The inevitable result of all that can be a chronic build-up injury that can be very difficult to eliminate. From running shoes, to a proper bike fit, to the right length of golf club to the correct weight and stringing of a racquet: all of these are so, so important and really must be taken on board before you fling yourself into your sport.
And flinging yourself into it can be a disaster. Don’t jump in at the deep end and try and go to the gym every day or play your sport every evening. For a start if you fail to reach those ridiculous targets then there is a big psychological price to pay and a sense of failure and defeat that can put you off that sport for ages. So set sensible, reasonable targets and perhaps reward yourself when you reach them; I didn’t treat myself to an expensive road bike until I had reached my target weight and had done three proper long road races. But by then I really felt I had earned it AND learnt how to use it AND would actually benefit from it.
As you build up the amount you do and the level you do it, you do need to try and find a level that your body can cope with. This is especially true for those of you doing weights. So often the shoulder injury occurs when they try to add a bit more weight - that ‘bit more’ is always the bit you will live to regret. And when we get you back into the gym you must stop before you reach that damaging level or it’s back to square one.
Sadly nothing is going to stop you dislocating your shoulder in a badly timed rugby tackle or breaking your collar bone if you slip on black ice when jogging. But pretty much everything less than these big injuries is preventable if you do the right thing, the right way with the right equipment.
Mr Richard Sinnerton - Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon - view his profile