Three Top Tips for Injury Prevention

So you want to prevent injuries? If you’re in one of the three following groups, injury prevention should be on your mind, because you’re at higher risk of muscle strains, joint sprains, and overuse or repetitive stress injuries. High(er) risk groups include:

  • Aging bodies (disappointingly, physically this means over the age of 35-ish)
  • People who train hard, often, or both, especially without appropriate physical recovery
  • Weekend warriors, or those who go longer periods of time between workouts or physical activity

Kickstart Things With Hands-On Massage Therapy

Daily life is hard on your body. The normal activities of daily life frequently create tension in muscles and connective tissues, either shortening them or overstretching them. Changed tension and length can create joint stress through misalignment and instability. In turn, this can increase injury risk for both joints and muscles.

What to do? Get some help! Remedial massage therapy, also called deep tissue massage or manual therapy, is the best way to kickstart your injury prevention efforts. While there are many things that you can do at home to mimic hands-on treatment, the fact is that you probably won’t make the at-home effort for the same length of time as a standard remedial treatment. Even if you do, you probably won’t be able to target the soft tissues (muscles and connective tissues) in the same way. You just won’t get the right angle on it!

A good remedial therapist will be able to target the muscles and connective tissues putting you at highest injury risk. They do this by asking you about your injury and exercise history, and by finding out what you would like to be able to do moving forward, whether that’s simply staying pain free or being able to keep up with the kids on the mountain bike. The long term goal for any hands-on therapy should be to get you feeling good so that you can maintain it with just a tune-up every now and then.

For Brisbane’s best remedial massage, check out Just Knead It or No More Knots.

Keep Things Moving Well – At Home

There are many, many different approaches to home-based injury prevention programs. The hallmarks of any good program: Exercises to maintain good muscle and connective tissue tension, and exercises to build and maintain joint mobility. (Joint mobility is the ability to actively move a joint through its full range of motion – similar to flexibility, but with additional contributing physical factors.)

Foam rolling and trigger pointing are two of the most common “exercises” to help maintain good soft tissue tension. They aren’t exercise in the traditional sense, though they can take some work! Instead, they are essentially a DIY remedial massage. These are usually completed by sitting, laying, or leaning on a foam roller or a spikey trigger point ball (or a tennis ball, which works just as well). Holding the pressure on a muscle-y area will trigger a nervous system response that causes the muscle to relax. How long to hold? There’s no single answer to this. It depends on a number of factors including positioning and how long the tissue has been building tension, but I always ask my clients to aim for a minimum of 30 seconds per spot. The wonderful thing about your body is that no matter how tight you might feel, if you do this consistently, you’ll be much looser, very quickly – especially if you’re starting this process after having remedial massage treatment. Once you’re feeling good, aim to maintain this by checking in with your body once or twice a week.

Joint mobility exercises are similar to flexibility exercises, in that they’ll challenge your body to move beyond its normal muscle lengths. As with static stretching, you’ll feel… stretching. The big difference is that with most joint mobility exercises, there’s a movement element as well as the stretch. Paying attention to your body alignment, you’ll move into a stretch in a controlled manner then move back out of it. This lengthens short muscles and connective tissues, provides some slack to overstretched areas, and teaches your brain to control movement through the entire range of motion available the joint(s) you’re working on.

Pro tip: Always do your soft tissue work before doing your joint mobility work. The decreased tension from the foam rolling or trigger pointing will give you more range of motion.

Get Strong

Being able to move your muscles and joints easily is vital to staying injury and pain-free – but only if you’re strong enough to control them! This doesn’t mean that you need to go to the gym and lift heavy weights every day. Rather, it means sticking with a plan for gradually challenging your muscles to get stronger, which can happen at a gym, at home, at the park, or in a group fitness class. A strength training program for injury prevention should, generally speaking, provide the following:

  • Exercises for all major muscle groups of the body
  • More “pulling” exercises than pushing (think moving a weight or resistance toward your centre of gravity rather than pushing it away)
  • Exercises that require large joint movement, preferably through multiple joints

Individualised injury prevention programs will take into account what movements and postures are most common for you on a day to day basis, any injury or exercise history you have, any current injuries or niggles you’re dealing with, and most importantly, what being injury-free (and worry-free) will let you do with your life! For most people without major sporting goals, an injury prevention program can be done in 20-30 minutes a few times per week. A small investment for lifelong peace of mind!

 

Have questions about exercise physiology? Interested in signing up for in-home sessions? Get in touch! 

HealthFit Coaching looks after inner city Brisbane and the western suburbs, including Spring Hill, Paddington, Bardon, Rosalie, Milton, Auchenflower, Toowong, Taringa, St Lucia, Indooroopilly, Chapel Hill, Kenmore, Graceville, and Chelmer.


Blue theraband being stretched between hands

A New Approach To Stretching Tight Hamstrings

Feel like your hamstrings are always tight?

Tension along the back of the thighs is one of the most common complaints I hear as both an exercise physiologist and a remedial massage therapist. And when I ask people what they focus on when they stretch, the answer almost inevitably includes hamstrings. Why are these buggers always so tight?

There are many reasons your hamstrings could be tight, having to do with your normal activities, posture, or how you generally use your body. Let’s focus on one of the most common reasons your hamstrings feel tight, and more importantly, what you can do about it!

Tight Hamstrings Often Come From Your Hips

As cliche as it sounds, everything in the body is connected. Your hamstrings run along the back of your thigh, and attach to the bottom back of your pelvis, on bony areas often referred to as your “sit bones”. Your hip flexors are shorter muscles that run from various spots on the front of the pelvis to the top of the thigh bone (your femur). They may be small, but they pack a punch!

Side view of pelvis with hip flexor and hamstring attachment points highlighted

Hip Flexor attachment and direction of pull in blue
Hamstring attachment and direction of pull in green

When you sit a lot, and most of us do, your hip flexors rest in a shortened position. Stay in a shortened position long enough, and the body will adapt to that, essentially resetting to a “new normal” – a short one. This tilts your pelvis forward slightly during sitting, standing, and movement, a lower back, pelvic, and hip posture we call anterior pelvic tilt.

This has a flow-on effect on your hamstrings. When the pelvis tips forward, it pulls the top of the hamstring muscles up towards your head. Because the bottom of the hamstrings don’t move upwards, the muscles become stretched out. Much like stretching a rubber band, this stretching leads to increased hamstring tension, and you’ll feel like you need to stretch your hamstrings.

Since you now know that they’re already stretched, what can you do to get rid of the tension feeling?

Stretch Your Hip Flexors

Lengthening the hip flexor muscles at the front of your pelvis and hips can decrease the pull on the hamstrings muscles, which in turn can decrease the feeling of tension along the back of the thigh. Try these three stretches:

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

How To: 

  • Kneel on one knee and take a big step out front with the opposite foot.
  • Keep the hip, knee, ankle, and foot on your back leg aligned (most of us tend to twist the hip so the foot twists inward.) Front leg can be aligned, or can move slightly out to the side.
  • Tighten the glute muscles (the muscles of your bum) – this is key to the hip flexor stretch. Drop your hips forward and down. Keep your torso more or less vertical. Your front shin should stay vertical or knee slightly extended, and your weight should stay through your front heel to protect your knee.
  • Extra credit: Lengthen along the entire front of the body by reaching up and slightly backward with the arm on the same side as the stretching leg.

Hold your stretch for: At least 30 seconds, at an intensity of around 4 or 5 out of 10. Don’t bounce, and breathe easily. If you can’t breathe easily, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and/or thigh. You may only feel it stretching one area or the other – that’s ok. All the muscles are being stretched. Your brain just pays attention to the one that is stretching the most.

Not ok with kneeling? Try this version:

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

How To: 

  • Take a big step backward with one foot, and a big step forward with the other foot.
  • Keep the hip, knee, ankle, and foot on your back leg aligned (most of us tend to twist the hip so the foot twists inward.) Front leg can be aligned, or can move slightly out to the side.
  • Tighten the glute muscles (the muscles of your bum) – this is key to the hip flexor stretch. Drop your back knee halfway to the ground, pushing your hips forward. Keep your torso more or less vertical. Your front shin should stay vertical or knee slightly extended, and your weight should stay through your front heel to protect your knee.
  • If needed, take a slightly larger step forward, or drop the back knee down towards the floor more, which will help keep the back thigh and torso vertical.
  • Extra credit: Lengthen along the entire front of the body by reaching up and slightly backward with the arm on the same side as the stretching leg.

Hold your stretch for: At least 30 seconds, at an intensity of around 4 or 5 out of 10. Don’t bounce, and breathe easily. If you can’t breathe easily, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and/or thigh. This standing version tends to feel like more of a quad stretch (front of thigh), but the hip flexors are lengthening too, especially with the glute squeeze.

If you want even better results, add this next stretch in. It targets the quads, which are the muscles at the front of your thigh. One of these muscles also acts as a hip flexor due to it’s attachment point on the pelvis. Most of us don’t spend nearly enough time on stretching the muscles at the front of the body anyway.

Standing Quad Stretch

How To:

  • Stand upright with feet together. Without bending or rotating your pelvis or hips, or shifting your weight too much (some shift will occur), bring one foot up behind your hips and hold it there.
  • Keep your knees together and torso upright, and squeeze your glutes.

Hold your stretch for: At least 30 seconds, at an intensity of around 4 or 5 out of 10. Don’t bounce, and breathe easily. If you can’t breathe easily, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and/or thigh. This standing version tends to feel like more of a quad stretch (front of thigh), but the hip flexors are lengthening too, especially with the glute squeeze.

Do these stretches daily for two weeks, then drop back to doing them 3 to 4 times per week to help keep your hips and hamstrings feeling good. As an added bonus, you’ll also be helping your lower back stay healthy and pain-free, and will make your workouts more effective. You can also substitute your own preferred hip flexor stretches. If you’d like, tell us about your favorite in the comments 🙂