Stretching long has been heralded as a way to prevent injury, but instead of stretching before a workout, which can pre-dispose some people to injury, The Memorial Hospital’s Luke Geer recommends stretching after a dynamic warmup or after the workout itself.

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Stretching long has been heralded as a way to prevent injury, but instead of stretching before a workout, which can pre-dispose some people to injury, The Memorial Hospital’s Luke Geer recommends stretching after a dynamic warmup or after the workout itself.

Your Health: Working to prevent sports-related injury

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When making a tackle, crossing over a defender on the way down court or sliding into home plate, accidents and injuries can occur.

Injury prevention tips

"If I were to generalize a few stretches for athletes, I would say calves, quads, hamstring and hip flexors. Those are probably the four biggest I see coming into the clinics. It's all lower body."

— Rich Sadvar, Craig Physical Therapy

"When we think of a sprain, we go to RICE: rest, ice, compress, elevate. Depending on the severity of the sprain, that can help it heal faster. But we definitely want some time off of it, as well, because otherwise, we're going to be beating up on some worn-out tissues."

— Luke Geer, The Memorial Hospital department of physical therapy

Sports injuries are as much a part of the game as the balls that are used to play, and sometimes they are unavoidable. But many athletes and others get hurt as a result of unpreparedness.

With some work, there are ways to help oneself prevent injury and even decrease the risk of falling victim to a freak accident on the field or court.

Prevention starts well before the season, when anyone planning on playing a sport or training for something down the road should get active.

“You need to be active prior to the season,” said Rich Sadvar, owner and operator of Craig Physical Therapy. “A lot of times, a running program is good, and a flexibility program, so we don’t go from a shortened, unconditioned skeleton straight into hard work.”

Making sure the muscles are used to some activity is important before subjecting them to the heavy stress they’ll experience during two-a-day football practices or the first sprints of the season during track.

“You have to start slowly and build up into it,” said Luke Geer, doctor of physical therapy and manager of The Memorial Hospital’s physical therapy department. “It should be specific for what you’re trying to accomplish. So progressive strength training is good for football, to prepare for the impact. The big thing is they’re not trying to jump into it when their body is not prepared for it. You get fatigued quicker, and that’s when strains and sprains happen, when the body is tired.”

Stretching long has been heralded as a way to prevent injury, but the school of thought on when to stretch has changed. Whereas stretching before a workout used to be the standard, stretching the muscles before warming them up at all actually could be counterproductive.

“The old process of pre-exercise stretching is going away because it can actually pre-dispose you to injury,” Geer said. “You want to put together a good, dynamic warmup. Get warmed up, stay warmed up, then pre-exercise stretching at that point can be beneficial. Then when you’re done exercising, that’s when stretching comes in to play the most important role. It will decrease soreness and have you ready for activity faster.”

Weight training is another common preseason and in-season workout and an effective way to improve the body’s ability to avoid injury — if done properly.

Starting at a manageable weight and using proper lifting technique are great places to start, Geer said.

“A lot of time when doing weight training, you start light and make sure the motions are slow and controlled throughout the range,” he said. “Generally, there are different schools of thought that one can get into with weight training. The biggest thing is making sure you’re not jumping into it too soon, too heavy.”

Finding balance in lifting is another important aspect of the workout, Sadvar said. Focusing on one set of muscles is an easy trap to fall into that can lead to injury down the line.

“There’s a lot of push versus pull activity in weight lifting,” he said. “If you do a lot of one, you may be setting yourself up for injury. If you’re training your extensors more than flexors, you may be putting yourself more at risk. If we don’t have this proportion in place, you could be putting self more at risk and not know it.”

Spending too much time on the bench press can put the body out of proportion and put strain on the upper back and shoulders, the same way only strengthening the quadriceps puts the hamstrings behind in the upper legs, and can increase risk of knee injury.

Even with good stretching and workout regimens in place, athletes and others in training will experience aches and strains. When that happens, rest is always a smart way to deal with it, Geer said.

But some athletes are interested in playing through the pain. In those situations, it’s best to be proactive, Sadvar said.

“Pain is an indicator of a problem,” he said. “It’s our body’s way of saying, ‘Don’t do that.’ It’s pretty simple to just come down and take a look at it and find out what you can do.”

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or nwaggenspack@CraigDailyPress.com.

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