How to prevent winter sporting injuries
Winter is upon us, and the cold air, wind chill factor, freezing hands and numb feet can make exercising in winter just that little bit tougher. It’s true that winter sport can mean more injuries. Stiff, cold muscles can all too quickly become sore and injured muscles. This is especially true because sports that typically pose the highest risk of injury – such as rugby league, AFL and soccer – are all winter sports.
However, you (and your children) don’t have to go into hibernation until the warmer weather rolls round. With a few preventative measures and a little preparation, you can sail through winter unscathed – without sacrificing your sport or exercise routine. Here’s how.
If you’re going to be exercising or playing sport outside, you really need to invest in good quality cold weather clothing that isn’t bulky. Lots of bulky layers will impede your movement, so instead go for a thin, thermal, heat-locking base that will keep you warm. Then add a toasty top layer that can be easily removed as you warm up. Wear a thicker pair of socks to keep your feet warmer and consider getting yourself a warm pair of gloves to prevent frostbitten fingers. Make sure your footwear can keep your feet warm and dry if you’re exercising outdoors.
Keeping your core body temperature high will help prevent injuries caused by cold muscles – and will also allow you to focus more on what you’re doing, rather than on how cold and miserable you are.
Warm up thoroughly
A proper warm up is a must to help prevent injuries, especially in chilly temperatures. A good warm up will:
- get your heart rate up;
- prepare your body for the exertion to come;
- significantly reduce the chance of injuries; and
- reduce post-exercise aches and pains.
An effective winter warm up should include:
- light physical activity to get your heart rate elevated (5 – 10 minutes).
- static stretching to help prevent muscle and tendon injuries (5 – 10 minutes).
- sport specific warm up to specifically prepare your body for the demands of your particular sport. For example, a golfer might take some practice strokes to cue and warm up the swing properly (10 – 15 minutes).
- Dynamic stretches to increase range of movement (5 – 10 minutes).
Of course, this type of warm up is most suitable for those playing a competitive level of sport. For people just looking to maintain or increase their general level of health and fitness, a total warm up of between 5 to 10 minutes would be enough. It should still incorporate light physical activity and some light stretching to prepare the body.
Undertake injury prevention programs
Many organised sports, such as netball and soccer, have standardised injury prevention programs that participants are encouraged to perform. The netball knee program, for instance, has been proven to be highly effective in reducing injuries in young people. But these programs are effective only if participants actually do them on a regular basis. If your child has been taken through one of these prevention programs, ensure they do it regularly. They might even be able to teach you strategies that you can use in your own exercise pursuits to help prevent injuries.
Monitor your load and modify when necessary
There are always ways to modify your practice or technique so that winter weather needn’t slow you down too much. When your muscles are cold and sluggish, they may not be able to handle the exercise load they normally do. Understand what your body can handle and the factors which impact on you or your child’s ability to handle exercise load in winter. On particularly cold days, make sure you gradually increase the intensity, frequency, volume or type of training that you do to help prevent injuries from occurring.
In extremely chilly weather, you might also need to modify your expectations when necessary. You might not be able to run as fast as you normally would, but that’s only to be expected. Set yourself different goals in winter and refrain from comparing your achievements. Sometimes just getting out there in miserable weather is an achievement in itself.
A cool down or recovery period is just as important as a warm up in winter. A cool down will help to:
- bring your heart rate and breathing back to normal;
- remove waste products such as lactic acid;
- reduce muscle soreness and stiffness; and
- prepare your muscles for the next exercise session.
Spend 10 – 15 minutes doing some easy exercise such as jogging or walking, followed by static stretching or foam rolling. Do some deep breathing as well to help get oxygen back into your system. Make sure you re-hydrate and re-fuel as soon after exercise as possible. Following this practice will help you recover quicker from your workouts and stay injury-free. During winter, put warm clothes on while you do your cool down to prevent your muscles getting cold too quickly.
Pay attention to weather warnings
Always know what the weather is likely to do before you exercise outside, particularly if snow, sleet, frost or extremely low temperatures are forecast. That way you won’t be caught unprepared in the elements and risk an injury due to weather conditions. If the weather is likely to be extreme, consider taking your workout indoors. If you really can’t do that, don’t exercise alone. Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you experience signs of frostbite or hypothermia.
Deal with niggles and injuries promptly
If the worst happens and you end up with a niggle or injury, don’t just ignore it and hope it will go away. Chances are it won’t, and you’ll just end up prolonging your recovery time. If it’s just an annoying niggle, get it checked out by a professional, so that you can learn how to prevent such niggles from becoming full-blown injuries.
If it’s a more serious injury, deal with it as soon as is possible. Treat soft tissue injuries such as strains, sprains and bruises with the RICE treatment protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation). Refer to an appropriate health professional such as your physiotherapist, chiropractor or GP. Getting early treatment will give you the best chance of recovering quickly. And don’t return to your sport or activity until you have completely recovered from the injury, as doing so will only exacerbate it.
Focus on the positives
Despite the frost, wind and chill, there are many positive to be gained by exercising in winter. For one thing, running tracks, playing fields, gyms and sporting venues are likely to be much quieter and less crowded in winter, leaving you free to get on with what you’re doing. As well, exercise helps keep you warm, stay healthy and beat the winter blues, as well as avoiding weight gain during the cold season.
Exercise is the best antidepressant – click here to read more.
Cold weather sport and exercise can be a challenge, but with a few adjustments it can still be enjoyable. Don’t fall prey to the temptation to avoid exercise in winter, but do it safely and wisely so you can stay injury-free throughout the colder months. Take a deep breath, reach for your warm clothes – and get out there!
For 20 reasons every kid should play sport, even in winter, check out this article.