There’s nothing worse than being injured while being active, as sports injuries are often difficult to treat and to recover from. So what can we do to prevent these injuries?
Conventional wisdom tells us stretching before exercising is the best way to avoid getting hurt, but new research suggests that the best way to combat exercise injuries is actually exercising.
A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that physical activity programs, especially strength training exercises, were more effective than stretching for preventing sports injuries.
“Final analysis showed that of these exercises, strength training was the most effective at preventing injuries; surprisingly, stretching was the least effective.”
Researchers from the Institute of Sports Medicine Copenhagen at Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, reviewed 25 previously published studies on sports injuries in adolescent and adult subjects who engaged in a wide variety of activities including soccer, basketball, football, and handball. In total, over 26,000 subjects and nearly 3,500 injuries were studied.
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Analysis focused on one or more of the following types of physical exercise: strength training, stretching, balance exercises, and programs that included more than one type of exercise.
Final analysis showed that of these exercises, strength training was the most effective at preventing injuries; surprisingly, stretching was the least effective.
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Muscle-building strength training was associated with a 68% decreased risk of sports injury, while stretching was only associated with a 4% decrease.
Balance exercises designed to improve joint stability were linked to a 52% decrease in injury risk, and multi-method exercise programs were associated with a 37% decreased risk of injury.
Several studies also reviewed the injuries to determine whether they were acute or due to overuse. Analysis showed that exercise programs were linked to a 38% decreased risk of acute injuries and a 47% decreased risk or overuse injuries.
Researchers noted a need for further research on the effect of strength training across a wider scope of injuries and stressed that no specific strength-training exercises or balance programs are proven to be most effective.
But despite the various studies using different exercise programs and having different emphases, the findings on strength training and stretching were similar across studies, leading researchers to determine that these findings may be generalizable beyond their review.
Still, the results from the studies using balance exercises and multi-method exercise programs were not comparable across studies, making those findings less conclusive and highlighting a need for additional investigation.
The study authors concluded, “further research into single exposures, particularly strength training, remains crucial.”
The Bottom Line
While this newest research doesn’t mean that exercisers shouldn’t stretch, it does reinforce the importance of strength training and balancing exercises as part of an overall physical exercise program. Developing strength and balance so that you land correctly on a fall could mean the difference between landing without injury or twisting an ankle and/or tearing a ligament.
A qualified personal trainer can set-up a program that combines both strength training and balancing activities. If you’re not the gym type, many yoga classes are designed to not only strengthen and lengthen your muscles but develop your balance, too.
Sprinkle these activities into your cardio or running routine, and perhaps you can remain injury-free for years to come!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.