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Health Center Today, October 6, 2010

Safety Gear/Dynamic Stretching - Crucial in Preventing Common Sports Injuries

By Carolyn Pennington

Photo of Dr. Thomas Trojian

Dr. Thomas Trojian

Fall sports are in full swing and to help prevent injuries on the playing field, don’t forget the importance of wearing safety gear.

Dr. Thomas Trojian, director of the Injury Prevention and Sports Outreach Programs at the Health Center, says for many sports, mouth guards are a must. They do more than protect an athlete's teeth; they can also serve as shock absorbers, a protective means to prevent concussions.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC ) estimates 135,000 sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, are treated in U.S. emergency departments each year.

A bump, blow, or jolt to the head can cause a concussion. Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Even a "ding," "getting your bell rung," or what seems to be mild bump or blow to the head can be serious.

Symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Headache or "pressure" in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion

Trojian says one way to help prevent injuries is to make sure players wear approved and properly fitted protective equipment. Protective equipment should be well-maintained and be worn consistently and correctly.

For soccer players, public anxieties have prompted some manufacturers to market headbands claimed to soften the blow of heading the ball and reduce the risk of sustaining chronic brain injury. But some coaches and parents worry that wearing the band may make athletes feel more invincible, so they're more likely to lead with their head.

Another important way to prevent injury is to stretch. Although when to stretch – before or after a workout – is still being debated. Possibly the only stretching theory everyone seems to agree on? Don't bounce.

"What does work best? It's a matter of "dynamic versus static stretching," Trojian says.

Static stretching involves held poses: leaning over an outstretched leg or bending toward the ground for 30 seconds.

Dynamic stretching is basically a foreshadowing of the workout to come: arms in circles if you're a swimmer, for instance; walking or skipping if you're a runner; maybe doing knee lifts for other movements. Tennis players would rally a few balls over the net. Skiers might do a few squats.

"Runners, for example, can do a dynamic warm-up by simply walking for five to 10 minutes," says Trojian. "Doing the movement at a slower pace to allow blood to flow into the muscle, that is good preparation and can potentially help prevent injuries."