Note: All stretch and exercise suggestions should be run by an exercise professional before being performed.
Roughly half of Australia’s 11.1 million people involved in sports are women, which means there are around 5 million women running, swimming, lifting weights, scoring, and occasionally injuring themselves on the path to competitive glory. Unfortunately, injury is almost an inevitability, especially as we age and natural wear and tear takes it tolls on our joints, ligaments and bones. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the necessary precautions and measures to stay in the fight for health and fitness!
So here are the most common injuries, and some practical ways to avoid and recover from them!
Among the most common injuries across both sexes, sprained ankles seem to be more prevalent among female sports persons.
There are three grades of sprained ankles:
Grade 1: Mild damage (stretching or slight tearing) of a ligament or some of the ligaments, usually accompanied by minor swelling and tenderness. The ankle still feels stable and walking is possible.
Grade 2: Moderate damage (incomplete/partial tear) in a ligament or ligaments, accompanied by swelling, bruising and ongoing tenderness. The ankle feels less stable and walking causes pain.
Grade 3: Severe damage (complete tear) of a ligament or ligaments, accompanied by extensive swelling, bruising and tenderness. The ankle feels unstable and is unable to support walking due to pain and instability.
How to avoid ankle sprains
The ankle is an instrument vital to your balance and your movement. Depending on your sport or exercise of choice, your ankle might experience high-levels of impact or quick directional changes, which is why proprioceptive exercises are perfect for ankle conditioning.
What are proprioceptive exercises?
Basically, proprioception is our ability to understand our own body positioning, movement and acceleration. The better your proprioception, the more control you have over your movement – it’s a key difference you might feel between running and running downhill.
Balance exercises: Balancing exercises, like standing on one foot, single-leg squats, planking with arm/leg raise combos, yoga and pilates, get you accustomed to how your body works and ways to comfortably and safely shift your weight.
Coordination/plyometric exercises: These are exercises that work off pattern movements, like vertical jumps, runs with quick changes in direction, and coordinated foot-and-arm movements. Exercises like these are fantastic for getting your mind and nerves aligned with quick actions and bodily adjustments.
Knee strengthening exercises: Squats, lunges, and exercises that rely on pushing weight (even body weight) through your legs helps establish an understanding of how your body copes with pressure/weight, where it’s distributed, and how to push against it.
Rotator cuff injuries
The rotator cuff is the group of tendons and muscles that keep your arm bone comfortable slotted into the shoulder socket, and it’s in use almost every time we use our arms. The rotator cuff is especially vulnerable in those who perform regular overhead movements – this can be something as simple as packing shelves or in sports like powerlifiting or tennis.
There are several types of rotator cuff injuries:
Rotator cuff tendinosis
Tendinosis is the degeneration of the tendons around the rotator cuff, a natural occurrence that can happens to both active and non-active women. It starts off at a microscopic level due to every day, regular use, and some don’t experience any pain associated with the condition.
Rotator cuff tendinitis
Unlike tendinosis, tendinitis is the irritation and/or inflammation of the tendons in the rotator cuff, normally occurring in those playing sports that involve repeated overhead movements.
The condition is normally painful, involving a loss in range of motion and strength in the arm.
Rotator cuff tears
The tears refer to literal tears that happen in the rotator cuff ligaments. Tears can occur over time naturally due to degeneration, but it can also be caused by trauma (acute rotator cuff tears). There are two types of tears:
Partial thickness – normally presents with mild pain and a click in the shoulder.
Full thickness – presents with either severe pain or little to no pain if the tear was enough to also sever pain fibres in the region.
Both tears will usually result in a loss of motion as well as weakness when performing certain movements.
How to avoid rotator cuff injuries
There are two simple ways to help ward off the chances of a rotator cuff injury: stretching and strength exercises.
Example rotator cuff stretches
Shoulder stretch 1 – rotations: This is an easy stretch that should be done gently and calmly. Moving your shoulders in their sockets by circling your arms and doing light windmills with your arms outstretched.
Shoulder stretch 2 – door stretches: Find a doorway or similar flat surface, holding your arm straight. Placing the palm flat on the doorway, and from a horizontal position, twist the body slowly and gently away from your hand.
Shoulder stretch 3 – back scratcher: Hold a towel behind you – one hand up behind your head, the other behind your back – and gently pull the towel up and down. When you feel warm in that position, switch hands.
Example rotator cuff exercises
Shoulder exercise 1 – reverse fly: The reverse fly targets the rhomboid muscles in your upper back and shoulders. Using light dumbbells, you can sit or stand with your knees bent, around shoulder width apart. Leaning forward, with your back straight (don’t hunch!), bend your elbows and lift the weights until your elbows are level with your shoulders in a smooth, controlled motion.
Shoulder exercise 2 – high to low rows: Rows are another great exercise for your back and shoulders. Kneeling or sitting, attach a resistance band to something around or above shoulder height. From a straight-backed position, pull the band till your elbow is just past your back, maintaining your core and structure.
Shoulder exercise 3 – side-lying rotations: Rotations are great for exercising the smaller muscles in your shoulder that you might miss doing other movements or exercises. Using a very light dumbbell, lie on your side with your knees bent (as if you’re sitting). With your arm bent at a 90 degree angle, weight across your abdomen, lift the weight toward the ceiling, stopping the movement when you feel strain.
You knee is a complicated piece of work, made up of bones, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. It’s the working part for the largest muscle group (quadriceps) and responsible for the strongest and longest bone in the body (femur) – and you use them for almost every facet of mobility.
The most common knee injuries are:
Knees are thankfully very strong, which is why knee fractures are normally the result of high-impact trauma, such as vehicular accidents and high falls.
Knee dislocations vary in severity, ranging from ‘partial’ to ‘complete’ misalignment of bones. Again, the knee is strong, and the most common causes for dislocation are high-impact trauma or an initial abnormality in knee structure.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL injuries)
ACL injuries are commonly heard among runners, netball and soccer players. This ligament is normally aggravated, damaged or torn when under extreme stress caused by quick and powerful changes in direction.
How to avoid knee injuries
Your knees are affected by your thighs and hips, so increasing the strength and flexibility of the muscles and tendons in these areas can help you avoid injury.
Example thigh stretches and exercises
Thigh stretches 1 – touching toes: Keeping your legs straight, bend forwards with hands outstretched and attempt to touch your toes.
Thigh stretch 2 – quad stretch: Standing straight with chest forward, lift one leg behind your back. Grabbing the foot with both hands, balance while pulling the foot toward your body.
Exercise 1 – bodyweight squats: Feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, with toes point slightly outwards, lower yourself into a sitting position while maintaining a straight back. Hold for a second, stand, and repeat.
Exercise 2 – bodyweight lunges: From a standing position, chest out and feet straight, place your hands on your hips. Take a large step forward without stomping your foot. When you foot lands, let your back-leg bend till it’s parallel with the ground, then push back to a standing position using your front leg. Change legs and repeat.
Example hip stretches and exercises:
Hip stretch 1 - butterfly stretches: Sitting down with chest out and shoulders straight, place your feet together. Holding onto your ankles, use your forearms to push down gently on your legs. Push against this force with your legs, and hold for 15-30 seconds, and repeat.
Hip stretch 2 – couch stretch: Kneel in front of a couch with your back to it. Lift one leg forward, resting on the foot, so the knee is 90 degrees. Lift the back foot on the couch, push your hips underneath your body, and hold for 30-1min. Change legs and repeat.
Hip exercise 1 – standing side kick: Standing up straight with hands on hips, lift your leg, foot pointing forwards, to the side of your body at around hip height. Change legs and repeat.
Hip exercise 2 – leg raise: Starting on your hands and knees, lift one leg, stretching it out with your toes pointing behind you. Try to keep your back straight while lifting the leg level with your body. Hold for 30 seconds. Change legs and repeat.
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