By Dr. Daniel Agosta, DC
With warmer weather and longer days here, getting active outdoors is a great way to stay fit and improve mental health. That said, when we move our bodies in ways that are new, or that we just haven’t done in a while, injury can happen. Even seasoned athletes and regular hikers, runners, bikers, surfers, and climbers get hurt from time to time. Below are some guidelines from Dr. Daniel Agosta, Chiropractor here at Root Whole Body, about how to prevent injuries while enjoying some favorite outdoor summer activities. Looking for some personalized care and a plan to prevent or rid yourself of pain? Book now to receive a complimentary Injury Prevention Screening with a Chiropractic Appointment with Dr. Agosta.
How to prevent low back, knee injuries, hip injuries, and ankle injuries while hiking:
• Wear proper footwear! If you are not sure how technical of a hike it is, it’s better to over-prepare by wearing your hiking boots with ankle support than to show up in your runners and twist an ankle.
• Going down is harder on the body than going up. Take smaller steps going down to reduce the stress on your knees and hips. Trekking poles are also a body saver.
• Resist the temptation to bend/lean forward while going hiking up a trail. Some research has shown that leaning forward increases the activation of your back muscles while reducing the activation of your gluteal muscles. This is the opposite of what you want when hiking! This is also much easier said than done, so again trekking poles can be a body saver.
• Bring plenty of water and a snack just in case. Dehydration and a depleted sugar/salt supply are a great combination to get a major muscle cramp.
• Practice carrying weight before you go. If you are planning to carry more than 10 pounds, make sure you practice and train in a more controlled environment before your hike.
How to prevent shoulder injuries while surfing:
• To start, practice swimming. Swimming out to catch a wave can be exhausting and extremely strenuous on the shoulders. Therefore, start introducing some laps into your regular exercise routine.
• Resistance training is essential to all sports. Even doing general strengthening of the body will allow you to be more resilient against injury. But if you are going to do resistance training, you might as well make it support your sport. Example: Outside of swimming, the next big demand on the shoulders is the explosive push up that must be done to get your feet on the board while catching your wave. Therefore, training for that explosiveness with presses, push-ups, and even more like surfing, push-ups on a Bosu ball, can make a big difference.
• Self-maintenance is big for the shoulders. Rotator cuff muscles tend to get overworked with repetitive strenuous activity. This is where a lacrosse ball can do wonders. Put it on the ground, lay your shoulder on it, and find all the “hurt so good” spots. You can accentuate the stretch by moving the arm overhead or across the body.
• If things don’t feel “right,” don’t push it. Most of the injuries happen when a person feels like something is off or not quite right but pushes through it anyway. One of the hardest, but most often, the best injury prevention strategies is to know when to quit for the day.
How to prevent shoulder and finger injuries while climbing:
• Pay attention to tendons and ligament fatigue. The first thing climbers need to understand is that their muscles will adapt to climbing far quicker than their ligaments and tendons. Therefore, muscle fatigue should not be the limiting factor for climbing, but making sure tendons and ligaments get much-needed rest between sessions, especially for beginners!
• Train opposite action muscles. As you increase your climbing, it’s essential to take time to train muscles that provide support for opposite muscle movements. Example: Climbing uses your lats extensively to pull you up. Therefore, on off days, it’s crucial to train pushing muscles through push-ups and press-ups.
• Train for an open grip. When doing hang board exercises, and eventually campusing, it’s important to focus on strengthening an open grip. This grip reduced the stress and force through the fingers by a wide margin compared to the crimp. The less you have to crimp, the less likely you are to injure ligaments in your fingers. That being said, slowly introducing crimps into your climbing will allow your ligaments to become more resilient over time.
• Train trunk stability for better shoulder mobility. Creating tension in the torso can provide the shoulder with more support and increase safe range of motion. Often, shoulder injuries occur when we have to jam ourselves into a corner with an outstretched arm. Maintaining body tension will help increase the stability of the shoulder, allowing you to free up the shoulder when moving out of the jam.
• Rest and self-maintenance are crucial. Outside of large, dynamic single moves, most climbing injuries stem from overuse. Take time to give your ligaments and tendons rest and utilize a lacrosse ball for working out tight spots in the shoulder and forearms.
How to prevent low back, knee injuries, hip injuries, and ankle injuries while running:
Some research has suggested running related injuries are as high as 80%. Despite these stats, There are some well-documented methods of training and running that significantly decrease your chance of injury and allows you to reap the benefits of your healthy habit.
• Increase tissue capacity. Injury to our tissues occurs when the force or load exerted on them exceeds their capacity to adapt to the stresses applied. Taking an analogy from physiotherapist Greg Lehman, imagine that our tissues’ ability to adapt is a cup and stressors, also called “load,” is water filling the cup. Injury occurs when water overflows our cup. We need a bigger cup! This is where training comes in. By applying consistent load that meets roughly 70% or more of our maximum effort, over time, our tissues adapt positively by becoming more resilient to load, building a bigger cup, so to speak.
• Targeted resistance training. To increase speed or mileage, or even to maintain a current pace, resistance training is necessary. Focus on exercises that strengthen the hips, posterior chain (think glutes and hamstrings), and trunk control.
• Proper body mechanics. There is no perfect running form, but there are common research findings to improving running times and reduce the risk of injury. If running does not cause you pain, your form is probably not a concern. However, for those runners who experience hip and knee pain that prohibit them from running, these tips may help:
- Stride length – Most of the time, people overreach where their foot lands while running, especially downhill. This often leads to added stress on the IT band, creating hip tightness and sharp pain in the side of your knee.
- Increase cadence – For healthy runners, studies show an average cadence of around 80 steps per minute. This varies between runners, but if your step count per minute is way off the mark and you are experiencing pain, this is something to consider.
- Feet under hips – While part of stride length and cadence, the idea here is working to have the feet land further apart, away from the midline of the body. Often, runners will allow both feet or just one to migrate more toward the midline, increasing stress on the knees.
• Movement variability. It’s a good idea to cross-train, to engage in other activities to give your body a break from the repetitiveness of running while still supporting the systems and structures you use while running. Example: Biking provides excellent aerobic exercise that continues to help adapt your cardiovascular system, the same systems you utilize when running.
• Warm-up. Research over the past decade has found that warming up before an activity goes further toward injury prevent than stretching. Doing a 5-10 minute warm-up that activates the muscles you about to use will help prepare your body. Example: Doing glute bridges or any variation of glute bridges, goblet squats, single leg squats, can all get the glutes and legs firing before a run.W
• Use Common Sense. Last, but not least – use your common sense. If you are brand new to an activity, something hurts, you don’t have all of the recommended safety equipment, you’re wondering how safe the activity really is, you are unprepared, or you’re just not sure you are physically able to do the activity, then stop, take a deep breath, and maybe take a pass. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, preserving your non-injured self for future, safer, fun.
These guidelines are by no means comprehensive, but they provide a good starting point for assessing how you are preparing your body for a variety of popular outdoor activities. There is no one size fits all for any sport or activity, so if pain persists or you are hitting plateaus in training, it might be time to speak with a medical professional or a strength and conditioning coach. I’m currently offering a complimentary Injury Prevention Screening with chiropractic appointments. Let’s work together to get you moving and feeling great.