Avoiding Track and Field injuries

This is the term for track and field or “sports term”. Each school will have their Track and Field Championships, there will be several weekend meets and everyone looks forward to NAPSAC, BSSAC and the Carifta Games. Unfortunately, every year, some promising athlete has his or her quest for glory halted by injury.

Let’s discuss some of the injuries which can affect our athletes and what can be done to reduce the risk of such injuries. In runners, the injuries will be in the lower limbs and the types of injuries sustained will depend on the type of runner the person is. Sprinters and hurdlers usually tend to have injuries which occur more suddenly (acute injuries) and involve strained muscles or tendons – most commonly the hamstrings.

Other muscle groups which may be affected by acute injuries are the quads, adductors (groin area) and the calves. Groin and calf injuries in these types of runners may also occur gradually due to overuse. Hurdlers may also get acute injuries due to hitting the hurdles or falls and some of these include ligament damage at the ankle or the knee.

Distance runners tend to have more overuse injuries than acute injuries because they are not using the explosive movements of the sprinters and hurdlers. Two very common injuries are Achilles tendonitis and medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints). Inflammation involving the muscle, tendon and bone surface causes shin splints which can progress to a stress fracture if not treated adequately.

In some instances, stress fractures can occur in the feet or hip of distance runners due to overuse and other factors. Jumpers may have acute injuries at take-off or landing (long jump or triple jump) and these include ankle or knee sprains or muscle strains. Much less commonly, more serious injuries such as tendon ruptures, joint dislocations or fractures may occur.

Tendon injuries due to repetitive stress may also occur in the knee (patella tendon) and ankle (Achilles tendon). In high jump, similar injuries may occur but there can also be injury to the spine from repetitive spinal hyperextension.

In throwers, most injuries occur in the shoulder and include rotator cuff tendon injury and labral injury. Javelin throwers who use poor technique may also exert excessive force across the elbow of the throwing arm and damage the ligament on the inside region of the elbow (ulnar collateral ligament).

Throwers do use their legs (javelin throwers most of all) and therefore may also be vulnerable to injuries such as ankle sprains when they plant their feet before throwing the implement.

What can be done to reduce the likelihood of the injuries discussed? Firstly, all track and field athletes or those interested in becoming competitive athletes should have a preparticipation physical evaluation done prior to the start of training. This is important to ensure the athlete can participate in sporting activity safely and  make sure there are no inadequately treated injuries.

Screening can also be done for correctable risk factors for injuries such as poor flexibility and strength. It is crucial that coaches devise a proper training programme for athletes so that improvement in performance can be made while ensuring proper technique, proper strength, conditioning and flexibility while avoiding overuse.

Poor core strength can lead to abnormal compensatory body mechanics in athletes and increase the risk of injury so that should be addressed. Parents must also be involved in that process to make sure overuse is avoided. Limiting extracurricular activity to a maximum of five days a week on average may be useful.

Extra caution should be taken with children and younger adolescents as they may get injuries around growth plates in the knee, ankle, shoulder or elbow and these can lead to more serious problems. Athletes should report any injuries early so that appropriate treatment can be started early.

Track and field is an exciting sport and participation can be very rewarding. However, avoiding injury requires a team effort and should be high on the list of priorities of everyone involved.

(Dr Shane Drakes is a Specialist in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine. He can be contacted at sdoptimalfunctioning@gmail.com. You can see more educational articles at www.optimalfunctions.com)

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