Track & Field Injury Prevention
BY HARRY KENDALL
Injuries are, unfortunately, part and parcel of being an athlete, a certainty that, no matter how careful you are, will happen at some point in your career. In this piece I've written for Neuff, I'll cover the optimum ways to prevent, treat and recover from niggles and serious injuries. Of course, I am not a medical professional, but these are just the ways I have found to help, or I have heard a lot from people with more knowledge than me.
HOW ARE ATHLETICS INJURIES TREATED?
The biggest thing I've learned, which took me far too long, is that with most injuries, they won't completely recover just by resting them. It will stop the inflammation and settle most of the pain, but as soon as you get back on track, the inflammation will come back, and the underlying weakness will still be there. The best way to ensure that your injured area is strengthened and won't become a chronic and recurring issue is to load the afflicted area as soon as enough inflammation has settled. This doesn't mean jumping into max loading immediately, like a one-rep max RDL a week after a hamstring strain. Start with isometric loading, which is static exercises loading the area, to strengthen the muscle without fast contractions.
WAYS OF MANAGING ATHLETICS INJURIES
Banded exercises can be a great stopgap to help to isolate specific areas and activate different muscles so the injured area doesn't become overloaded. These exercises are a great way to load without excessive weight or causing another flare-up with the injury. They also maintain tension throughout the movement, strengthening a much more extensive range of motion.
Once you're confident with the bands and are completing the exercises without pain, it might be time to progress back into your regular training routine with weights and track work. My key point is that I hear countless athletes saying things like, "I've rested my injury so much, but it still hurts once I come back, so I can't fix it". This is entirely the wrong attitude, as just resting an injury will result in a loss of strength, muscle mass, mobility, and flexibility. So, of course, it is going to feel strange when you make the transition back into training; you just need to manage the pain while you build the strength back in the afflicted area.
Now, we're going to move on to some injury prevention strategies, hopefully stopping you from attaining a severe injury during training or competition.
MANAGING TRAINING VOLUMES
Do not compete or train intensely if you have a niggle or injury causing you a lot of pain.
Training through minor aches and pains is fine as that is just parred for the course with being an athlete, but dosing up on painkillers to mask excruciating pains is not a good idea. Ultimately, if something hurts that much, it is probably an issue which is only going to get worse.
HYDRATION AND SLEEP FOR ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
This is a very, very, VERY simple one, and something which infuriates me daily with athletes... DRINK WATER AND GET ENOUGH SLEEP.
You'd be amazed how many athletes rely on coffee and energy drinks instead of water and are surprised when they feel lethargic and can't train well. On top of this, if you are not getting a good amount of sleep, generally 6-8 hours, then you are not allowing your body to heal itself and recover properly, which could explain why you feel so sore all the time.
DO YOUR PREHAB/REHAB
Suppose you have a problem area which constantly niggles at you. In that case, it is essential to strengthen, stretch and mobilise that area, or it will continue to give you grief until it eventually turns into something serious. In addition to this, regular physio on a niggle can help relieve the symptoms and keep the area mobile.
MENTAL HEALTH IN ATHLETICS
Often enough, when you are injured, it is impossible to see a point where you will be well again, and when you are injury free, it's hard to see yourself getting injured. It is important to remember this if you are stuck in the depths of a severe injury and that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Mental battles with injuries are much more challenging than physical ones, so it is vital to manage your mental health with care during these periods. Make sure you're still going down to the track and the gym, even if it's to do your rehab exercises somewhere outside your home. Seeing people in training scenarios will help your motivation to come back and train hard when you're recovered, as it's very easy to retreat into a little personal bubble while you're injured.
Whilst rehab and recovery take up some of the time when you're injured, it's not quite the same as training full-time when you're healthy, so you'll probably find yourself with some extra time on your hands. It might be good to take up a new hobby or pastime while you have the extra hours. Who knows, you could even try some blog writing…
DEALING WITH ANXIETY IN ATHLETICS
Another factor that can be dangerous to your mental health whilst being injured is the anxiety you may feel when returning to the track and reaggravating your injury. If you are starting to experience this, it is crucial to make your comeback with manageable steps slowly. Celebrate milestones like your first jog or stride, high jump, or javelin throw. Jot them down in your training diary or phone to track your progression and reassure yourself that you are indeed moving in the right direction.
ITEMS FOR ATHLETICS INJURIES
Over the years, many gadgets and fads have been claimed to have stopped injuries. Many of them have become complete scams, but some have proved helpful to many athletes, including myself.
Compression boots seem to be the latest sensation in recovery and injury prevention. Maybe it's because you look like an astronaut when wearing them, but they have become incredibly popular with athletes. Now I don't know the exact science behind them, but the basis is they restrict blood flow to specific muscles before allowing it to flood back in, aiding recovery and lessening feelings of DOMS. These products can prove to be rather expensive, with many going for hundreds of pounds, but I can confirm that you can feel like a brand-new person after 20 minutes in these boots. This is not to say they will stop all soreness from entering your body (nothing can do that), but regular use after hard sessions could make them worth the purchase.
Compex machines can also be a valuable item to use whilst recovering from an injury. These machines help to contract muscles through a series of small shocks, which help to stimulate and activate the chosen area. These can be particularly useful to stimulate muscles close to an injured area, which cannot be used. For example, when I injured my ankle and could run or lift weights, a Compex machine was useful to activate my calf and help keep it working somehow.
WHERE DO ATHLETICS INJURIES USUALLY COME FROM?
Finally, for this article, we'll go through some common sense. Believe it or not, most serious injuries don't come directly from training for combined events or athletics. 400m World record holder Wayde Van Niekerk for example, snapped his ACL in a charity rugby game. Injuries can be caused by seemingly stupid situations, perhaps dropping a weight on yourself in the gym, or slipping on something and tweaking a muscle.
The moral of the story here is to be careful, especially in situations that present more of an injury risk, so avoid activities such as cliff diving in the middle of the competition season. One of my worst injuries wasn't from directly training as such, but getting my spike stuck in the pole vault bed and dislocating my ankle, so always be cautious with your training and day-to-day life. The last thing you need is to go outside on an icy day, slip and end up breaking a bone or tweaking a muscle trying to keep your balance.
That's all from me this time. I hope that something in here rings true for you, and maybe you've garnered some advice which can come in handy in the future, or you could think this is all waffle. If this is the case, feel free to message my Instagram page @harrykendall_ so I can work on your feedback for next time!
ABOUT HARRY KENDALL
Harry is a decathlete who represented England at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham!
He has also won bronze at the 2021 British Athletics Championship, and he claimed victory at the 2022 English National Championship after scoring a record of 7843 points!
Currently a member of Tonbridge AC, one of his goals is to make it to the World Championships in Budapest this year.