When you hear the words “physical therapist,” or "athletic therapy" you most likely picture a few or all of the following images: athletic tape, bandages, repetitive exercises, tough stretches, or even perhaps tears of frustration and sadness cried during one of your own personal physio experiences. So why would these, largely negative images, come to mind immediately, instead of images of smiling physiotherapists, the first time you walked again for the first time, or the first time you saw a major improvement in your health and well-being? One answer may be that the words “physical therapist” are attached to the painful memory of an injury.
Injury. An amateur, professional, or even recreational athlete’s most dreaded word. For that matter, none of us, athlete or not like hearing or experiencing that word! Most people have had or will have some sort of injury in their lifetime. Many of these injuries, especially in youth or young adults can be attributed to sport or recreation. For youth, ages 11-18, the amount of injuries that occur during sport and recreation, are at an all-time high. Physical therapists treat hundreds, if not thousands of knee, ankle, and other such lower body injuries year after year. So what can we do to protect ourselves, our athletes, our children, and/or our students from these types of injuries? The answer is two-fold:
1. Teach proper injury prevention techniques and skills.
2. Implement a simple neuromuscular training regiment, specifically, the one suggested by the International Olympic Committee.
Physical therapists and athletic trainers from Rebound Health Centre, Fit Physiotherapy, as well as personnel from the University of Calgary have joined forces to promote this new program to middle schools, high schools, coaches, and athletes in the southern Alberta area. Through implementing this simple protocol, our athletes can play safer, smarter, and be more aware about potential injuries.
Like many of you reading this blog, I have experienced an injury that significantly altered my path and led to several frustrating changes in my life. When I was in grade twelve, I played basketball for a local high school. I loved basketball more than most things, and I had aspirations to go on and play in university. As such, I worked extremely hard in the pre-season and by the start of the regular season, I was achieving in a way that I had not thought possible. It was a very exciting start to the season and I was beginning to see my future unfold before my eyes. Unfortunately, that “future” came to a screeching halt one day when, at practice, I was pushed, fell, and heard an ominous “pop!”. A week later, I found out that I had torn the anterior crucial ligament and meniscus in my right knee. It was a devastating blow to my plans, my team, my self-esteem and everything I had worked for up to that point. Within three years I had torn my ACL three times and my meniscus twice. Looking back at these injuries, I wish would have had the knowledge that I have now about injury prevention and had focused less on playing basketball as much as I could, and more on strengthening myself so that I could have continued to play.
My job now, as a small part of this team of physical therapists, trainers, and athletes who want to prevent as many junior high and high school level athletes as they can from experiencing what I did, is to bring this story, along with the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) approved and tested training program to high schools in Southern Alberta. This program is a simple 15-20 minute, neuromuscular warm-up that contains 13 exercises aimed at strengthening different parts of the lower-body. The IOC has completed several studies that have shown that by completing this routine 2 or more times a week, an athlete’s can reduce their risk for lower body injury by up to 86%. This protocol’s exercises include agility, balance, coordination, endurance, and conditioning components that help athletes form good habits that are specifically designed to protect athlete’s knees and ankles. These good habits include: landing lightly on the balls of your feet when jumping, keeping your knees in front of your toes and pointed slightly out from your body when doing squats or bending down, as well as, the safe shifting of your body weight when pivoting and rotating on one foot. This protocol is not only simple to teach to athletes, it begins with simple exercises that gradually increase in difficulty as the athlete gets stronger and more confident in correct body movement. Teaching injury prevention to high school students entails not only teaching these good habits, but also involving and engaging them, but asking them to share about their past experiences with injuries, training, sport etc. As athletes open up about past injuries, they become a testimonial of sorts for other athletes as to the extreme importance of injury prevention. As injury prevention becomes important in the eyes of the individual athlete, he or she will be more likely to advocate for themselves when it comes to needing more time for rest and recovery, making time for this neuromuscular protocol, or even resisting the pressure to “play through the pain”.
The neuromuscular training program can be a literal and figurative game-changer for so many athletes. The Rebound staff are committed to getting this initiative off the ground and running in the right direction! Teaching our coaches and athletes the importance of preventing an injury and giving them the tools (posters, IOC website information, detailed list of exercises etc.) to succeed will change the way our athletes play. It is always better to prevent an injury from occurring, than to go through the rehabilitation process after the injury has already occurred... far less painful too! If you or anyone you know has any questions or wants more information about this initiative, please feel free to contact Fit Physiotherapy, or Rebound Health Centre inside the University of Lethbridge or click on the links below to find out more about the IOC studies and specific exercises. As we continue to work together with coaches, athletes, concerned parents, teachers, and leaders, we will see not only a drop in injuries, but youth with brighter, healthier futures!
Links to the Journal Articles
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