Exercise Injury Prevention: All About Stretching, Strengthening and Better Balance

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When it comes to preventing athletic injuries, the standard mantra has always included stretching. As it turns out, stretching may be only a part of the solution and not even the most important part at that. To really prevent injury, core strength (back and hip muscles), balance, and even brain function must all be addressed.

Core Strength

Research has demonstrated that core strength and lower extremity injuries are closely tied. The idea is that better core strength can help reduce the burden on the lower extremities by helping to maintain balance. Maneuvers to compensate for inadequate balance are the prime cause of lower extremity injury and the core plays a very strong role in balance.

The importance of core strength in injury prevention extends well beyond exercise into everyday activities, including work activity. In one study of firefighters, core strengthening exercises reduced injuries by 42% over a year and reduced lost time due to injuries by 62%. The study focused on “awkward positions,” which are defined as bending, leaning, or twisting (especially from the waist) in a manner that alters a person’s center of gravity. In other words, awkward positions upset balance.

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It isn’t just lower extremity injuries that are prevented by improving core strength. Another study found that core strengthening can reduce compensatory movements in patients who have suffered arm injuries. In other words, strengthening the core can transfer movement from the limbs to the postural muscles of the body. Because the core muscles are more robust than the limb muscles, transferring movement and repetitive load forces to the core can greatly reduce injury.

Finally, core strengthening has been found to reduce the incidence of lower back injuries. This result is explained by the fact that strengthening the muscles of the core helps to reduce the load put on the bones and discs that make up the spine. Disks are meant to act as vertical shock absorbers, but do not do well when subjected to strong lateral (side to side) or torsion (twisting) forces. Strengthening core muscles can ensure that both types of movement are reduced.

The conclusion of these studies is that core training goes well beyond preventing athletic injury. A stronger core can ward off all kinds of insults, like those that are commonly seen in the office of personal injuries lawyers. Of course, if you need a personal injury lawyer, you can click here. Otherwise, follow a core strengthening regimen and maybe you can avoid the need to make that call in the first place.

Balance

The core muscles play a very integral role in maintaining balance, which is why strengthening them can help prevent injury. There is more that can be done to improve balance, however, and a neuromuscular warm-up is one of activity that has been shown, by research, to work.

A neuromuscular warm-up is one that goes beyond stretching into activities that improve balance and coordination. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls movement, coordination, and balance. As it turns out, the cerebellum also needs to be “warmed up” just as much as muscles do.

Neuromuscular warm-ups consist of progressive strengthening, plyometric (jumping and landing), balance, and agility exercises. Examples of activities included in a neuromuscular warm-up are practicing jumps and practicing complex maneuvers such as rapid footwork. In other words, to get the best warm-up, an athlete needs to go beyond simply stretching and running. Twenty minutes of a neuromuscular warm-up can significantly reduce the risk of ankle sprains, ACL injuries, and more.

What We Know

The research is clear, balance needs to be addressed if injury is to be avoided. The importance of balance goes beyond preventing injury though. It turns out that improving balance can help to compensate for past injuries, speed up recovery times, and even reduce pain. The best ways to improve balance are through core strengthening and neuromuscular exercise, as explained above.