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Most Important Risk Factors for Exercise Related Injuries

Jul 19, 2011

Most Important Risk Factors for Exercise Related Injuries

Finding ways to engage in physical activity while avoiding injury is a major goal of training programs. All activities have risks. Most of the time the benefits outweigh the risks. One recent study found that active individuals have a 17%-19% lower chance of injury during non-sport or non-leisure time activities than those who were inactive. But injuries still do exist, and it’s important to understand the factors that could increase your risk of suffering an exercise-related injury.

Research on exercise-related injuries was sparse at the peak of the fitness boom in the 1980’s. Since then, studies have attempted to understand injuries. But this area is still limited, especially in females. Most of the data comes from runners in the civilian sector and military studies. Most documented injuries occur to the lower extremities. In the military, 80-90% of injuries were seen in the lower body. In runners, approximately 25%-65% of runners report being injured to the point they reduce or stop training annually.

So when do the risks of injury increase?

Effective exercise programs are built on the concept that exercise sessions must challenge the body versus continuing to do exactly the same thing. But how this is done and how the program is designed is a major factor in injury incidence. Studies from the military indicate that 60-80% of injuries are related to overuse. Overuse injuries often include things such as achilles tendinitis, patellar-femoral syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures.

The same training factors that are needed to create a training effect and challenge the body in exercise sessions are some of the common factors related to injury. These factors include frequency, duration, recovery, and intensity to name a few. But these are not the only ones; research specific to knee injuries has also linked factors such as the environment, knee bracing, shoe surface, and even weather.

Research concludes that there are preventive steps to prevent injuries. This has been specifically shown with knee injuries. It has been found that most knee injuries are not the result of contact or collision but neuromuscular and biomechanical issues. These neuromuscular and biomechanical issues include collapse of the knee, reduced knee flexion, decreased core and trunk control, increased hip flexion, improper landing (flatfooted), and less plantar flexion.

To prevent injuries

But many injuries can be prevented by following a few simple recommendations. These recommendations surround overuse, one of the most the important factors related to common exercise-related injuries. To help prevent overuse injuries:

  • Individuals with a low fitness level should start at lower levels of exercise – even as little as 5 to 10 minutes, and then progress slowly
  • Exercise frequency, duration, and intensity should be individualized to an individual’s fitness level
  • Increases in frequency, duration, and intensity should progress slowly and be tracked
  • Sufficient recovery between workouts should be allowed
  • Individuals should be aware of early warning signs of potential injury, such as increasing muscle soreness, bone and joint pain, excessive fatigue, and performance decrements, and then reduce exercise until symptoms diminish

Additional recommendations to help prevent injuries in the knee specifically, include considering: soft surfaces for running and jumping exercises, proper footwear, and some injury prevention training. Injury prevention training has displayed strong evidence for reducing ACL injuries when plyometrics, balance, and strengthening are incorporated.

Evidence suggests that injuries can be averted and that most exercise has a protective effect. But, exercise should be done with consideration of the above recommendations to prevent injury, with special attention on preventing overuse.

Source: The Cooper Institute


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