Basics of Injury Prevention
Do you know the caution signs?
If you listen well enough, your body typically alerts you when an injury is imminent, giving you a window of time for prevention. The easiest way to listen is to first understand the 3 categories of caution signs. We’ll use the basic rules of a traffic light, meaning that there will be RED signs, YELLOW signs, and GREEN signs. As I hope you understand, RED signs means STOP, YELLOW means proceed with CAUTION, and GREEN means you’re good to GO.
Let’s start with the red signs. Red signs are pain/discomfort/numbness/tingling or anything that is new, unknown, or persistent and you’re not sure how to work through it. For example, if you rolled your ankle before, but this time it hurts longer, or worse, or you have pins and needles (which has never happened before), that’s a red sign.
Next, are the yellow signs. Yellow signs are instability/weakness/loss of range of motion or anything bothering you that you can probably work past, but that you feel are not getting better. For example, you throw a softball, feel a pinch in your shoulder, but you can still throw, yet after 3 weeks the pain has lingered and hasn’t gone away.
Last, are the green signs. Green signs are average muscle soreness/fatigue/bruise injury from contact or anything that may hurt less than a few days and you can continue performing at a high level. For example, coach had you running gassers with pushups and your arms and legs are sore for a day or two, but then you feel better and can play at >90% again.
What do I do if I have a sign?
For the purpose of this blog, we’ll focus on the “BIG” joints of the body – ankles, knees, hips, spine, and shoulders. Identify what joint is bothersome, and what sign it is showing. This way you can assess yourself and get to a healthy status to train. According to the sign your body is giving you, you can follow the suggested course of action below.
⃝ RED (pain/discomfort) → If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1 and get yourself to an emergency department. If it’s not, then RICE the injury (rest – ice – compress – elevate) and see a professional. A Physical Therapist (PT) is a good place to start. They are medically trained professionals highly educated in the structure of the human body and its mechanics. They use that knowledge to maximize a person’s functionality and quality of life.
⃝ YELLOW (instability/weakness) → if the instability or weakness is new or unknown, a professional would be a safe place to start, but if you think it’s something you can work through, then stabilize the joint. Single leg balance exercises for >30 sec per repetition is great for ankles, knees, and hips. You can progress them with head rotations, then standing on foam, then combining them. No need to use weight. For hips, spine, and shoulder stability, Bosu or swiss ball planks >30 sec per repetition is great. Progress these with longer durations, moving the ball underneath you to write out each letter of the ABC’s, then straight arms hands on ball. Again, no need to use weight.
⃝ YELLOW (tightness/loss of range of motion) → warm up then move through the motion, find the point of tightness and hold that tension for 30 seconds. Do that as often as possible throughout the day making sure to hold 30 seconds or else the muscles won’t lengthen, stretching won’t occur, and it will be a waste of time. If you’re at the end of the range and can’t go any further, but you DON’T feel a stretch, then consider seeing a PT again to see what is blocking that motion and if it can be addressed correctly so you regain whatever you’ve lost.
⃝ GREEN (bruise/fatigue/sore) → now is when there is no pain, tightness, or instability through any “BIG” joints. Time to focus on stability through the motion of those “BIG” joints. Remember everything involves core, so incorporate that as best you can. You can progress the exercises from the instability section or choose any of the next three choices. Each is multi-joint and good for all well-rounded athletes.
- Indian wrestling – two people each hold one end of a theraband loop while balancing on one leg. Each player can pull, push, etc the theraband to knock opposing player off balance. Make sure to switch legs. This exercise encompasses all “BIG” joints and is a lot of fun!
- Half kneel KB shoulder press – holding the KB upside down in the same side hand as the knee on the ground, complete a shoulder press. This will engage the hips and spine, while strengthening shoulder stabilizers.
- Turn and plant with one leg – start in athletic position chopping your feet, and for 30 sec pick on leg to land on. Someone points left or right, and you quickly turn your hips to that position and land on that foot to stabilize. Immediately return to start position with feet chopping and repeat. Switch legs. This will help with the ankles, knees, and hips. This is also a very good ACL prehab drill.
What if I want sport-specific injury prevention advice?
Keep a lookout for my upcoming blogs, you nerd! Week by week I will cover a different kind of motion, or sport, and how to prevent the most common injuries. Next week I’ll cover overhead throwing athletes.
Fun Fact: Not everyone is born with a palmaris longus muscle – it’s absent for about 15% of the population.