Sports physiotherapist Harmeet Bawa offers practical suggestions to help you protect yourself against sports injuries.

Though sports injuries may not be at the top of the mind when you embark upon an athletic journey,  there’s no escaping the risks. So the best way for you to protect yourselves is to follow a basic plan, to minimise your risk of injury, during practice and play.

#1 Warm up

This prepares the body for exercise, and is done before you begin, to increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscle and enhance cellular metabolism. The type of exercise to be performed determines the type of warm –up. The most effective warm-up consists of two types of exercises, general and specific.

The first variety, general exercises, may include jogging, general stretching and resistance exercises. And the second, specific exercises, include stretches and movements that are appropriate for the planned activity.

#2 Stretching

This reflects the ability to move a joint smoothly, through the full range of movement. General flexibility varies from one person to another, and may be influenced by genetics. You can improve your own, with a general

stretching program. In particular, this involves stretching of major groups of muscle, plus those involved in that particular sport. During stretching, the stretch position is assumed slowly and gently held for 30 to 60 seconds. Make sure there is no tension or pain, as an overstretch may occur, leading to injury.

#3 Taping and bracing

These are ways to restrict undesired and potentially harmful motion, while allowing desired motion. In highly competitive games, where the player has injured himself just before the game, tape is applied to allow some degree of motion for him to play.

Good tape should be adhesive, strong, non-irritant and easily torn by the therapist. Ideally, this should be applied over joints where skin sliding can be limited to one direction. In addition to providing mechanical support, tape may enhance proprioception.

#4 Protective equipment

Used to shield various parts of the body against injury, without interfering with sporting activity. This may be used on return to activity after injury, in situations where direct contact may aggravate the injury. Helmets are mandatory in certain sports such as motor racing, motor cycling, cycling, ice hockey, horse riding and American football.

Other protective equipment involve mouth guards in most collision sports, shoulder pads in American and rugby football, chest, forearm and groin protectors in cricket. Others are knee pads, to protect players on artificial surfaces, wrist guard in rollerblading and snow boarding, shin pads in soccer and hockey. Importantly, protective equipment must fit correctly.

#5 Suitable equipment

This refers to the gear used in that particular sport, such as running shoes, football boots, badminton and tennis racquets.  The optimum shoe for a runner, is one that matches the runner’s specific mechanical features.

To avoid sports injuries, the forefoot flexibility must be adequate, to allow easy motion of the foot flexing at toe off. Also, racquets should be appropriate. In tennis, the impact of ball on the racquet produces a significant amount of force on the player’s arm.

Tennis related elbow pain is most often due to an incorrect stroking technique, especially backhand drive. So, a tennis player should choose the largest comfortable grip size, to prevent excessive, tight gripping of racquet.