Let’s face it … the last thing you want to be doing during the big game is sitting on the bench. Kendrick Perkins is just one of the unfortunate souls who recently had to miss a big moment (Game 7 of the NBA Finals) to heal an injury. But at the same time, playing hard and fighting for a win inevitably increases your chances of getting injured and landing on the bench.
So what exactly makes an athlete more susceptible to injury? Pivoting. Moving suddenly. Falling. Jumping. Landing poorly. A Ron Artest elbow to the face. Being tripped by a defender. Contact with other players. Basically, when you’re on the court, it’s likely that you will get injured at some point. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that you won’t at least sustain some kind of minor injury.
Knee injuries, ankle injuries, and injuries from overuse and trauma to the joints are some of the most common culprits. Hitting your knee, twisting it, and landing are all common sources of knee injuries. Tripping and rolling your ankles often lead to ankle sprains and fractures. Overusing any area of your body can lead to an overuse injury, but is unfortunately quite common to the knee. And then there are trauma injuries. Basically, getting hit in any area of your body or landing forcefully on or against another surface can cause a trauma injury.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that there are quite a few things that you can do to prevent this from happening to you. Even in the event that you are injured, if you take the necessary precautions to prevent getting injured, you could lessen the severity and minimize your bench-warming minutes.
Warm up AND cool down
Warming up does just that — it warms up your muscles and prepares your body for exercise. Muscles and tendons that are not properly warmed up do not stretch as much and are more likely to tear during intense activity. Exercising without warming up also makes premature fatigue more likely.
Cooling down has similar effects. Returning your body close to its resting levels will allow for more oxygen to be used more effectively post-exercise. Stretching during this time is especially effective since the body is already warm, and it can prevent some stiffness following the exercise bout.
Stretching both the ankle and calf muscles can be helpful to preventing an ankle injury. However, stretching your entire body, especially your knees, back, neck, and shoulders will help you prevent the most injuries.
Improve your muscle balance and strength
Lots of athletes overlook the importance of keeping their muscles in balance. One of the major risk factors for an ACL injury is a muscle imbalance between the quads and hamstrings. It’s also important to keep balance between other opposing groups like abs/back and biceps/triceps. Maintaining balance between opposing muscle groups makes it less likely to pull a tendon or ligament.
Wear the right shoes
Wearing the right shoes can help prevent ankle injuries by providing necessary support. This will help provide a stable platform and prevent the ankle from rolling. Jumping and landing is another common injury that can be avoided by wearing a shoe with good shock absorption.
Wear a mouth guard
In a high-contact sport, it’s easy to lose teeth if you don’t protect yourself properly.
Wear the right equipment
If you’ve had past injuries or have an unstable joint, don’t forget to or hesitate to wear a brace. Wearing a brace to support the joint will help prevent future injuries and keep you in the game! But make sure you wear it properly … not too tight, not too loose. And just FYI, wearing a brace that you don’t need can actually cause an injury.
Scope out the court
Make sure there is nothing on the court that you might trip or fall on. This is especially important when playing outdoors. Pay special attention to uneven surfaces where you might lose balance.
Keeping your body hydrated with sports drinks will allow you to perform better and prevent injuries from heat cramps, muscle cramps, and dehydration. And staying hydrated also helps prevent other injuries.
Stay in shape…
…and if you don’t, start out again slowly. Staying in shape keeps your body strong enough to avoid injuries more readily. If you haven’t worked out or trained in a while, just start out slowly and increase your workload progressively to prevent injury from overuse.
Don’t try to tough it out
Follow a physician’s advice on whether or not to stay in the game. Playing with an injury makes you more susceptible to an even more severe injury or multiple injuries.
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So, what happens if you do sustain an injury? It really depends on the type of injury and the severity. For a knee injury, recovery could last anywhere from weeks to months. In the most severe cases, surgery may be required. Ankle injuries usually require less time to recover, but still can range up to a couple weeks for recovery. Trauma and overuse injuries have varying recovery periods. In all cases, the injured joint or area generally should be rested and iced.
Ultimately, remember to talk to a doctor for the treatment of all injuries on an individual basis and to allow for enough recovery time to prevent re-injury. I know, I know … they never tell you what you want to hear. But they usually know what they’re talking about, so listen up and make sure you follow their advice. You don’t want to end up on the court, feeling like crap, not playing 100 percent, only to re-injure yourself. Later on, once the injury is healed, you may need to regain strength with mild weight training exercises. So if you want to maximize your time on the court, take care of yourself, and listen to the professionals when you do injure yourself.