As Canadians we have the pleasure of experiencing four seasons which are each accompanied by their own unique challenges. Perhaps the most challenging of seasons, especially as we age, is upon us. Winter can be a difficult time for some as it welcomes snow and ice maintenance around the home, along with unpredictable walking and driving conditions. At the same time, for many people the arrival of winter means the return of ski season, snowshoeing, pond hockey, and other outdoor activities. The associated risks of injury, whether activity, sport, or winter related can be significantly reduced or even prevented with the proper preparation. Preparation and prevention of injury is known as prehabilitation, and should be emphasized in both athletes and non-athletes alike.
“I exercise regularly at the gym, am I reducing my risk of injury?” The answer to this question depends on the amount of variety in your training, and how your workout routine correlates with your everyday movements. Whether your activities involve shoveling the driveway, playing hockey, sitting in a chair eight hours per day, or racing down a mountain on your skis, they all involve muscles that can be subsequently over and underused, and therefore prone to injury.
Imagine two muscle groups with opposite functions; one group known as the agonists are complemented by another group of muscles, the antagonists. In a sport such as skiing, the agonist muscle group are the quadriceps due to the prolonged positions of hip flexion and variations between knee flexion and extension. The hamstrings and lower back muscles are often in a more lengthened and relaxed state relative to the quads while skiing. The two main concerns with repetitive movement and prolonged positions are the resulting weaknesses of the non-dominant muscles, and tightening of the dominant tissues due to repetitive contractions and muscle shortening. Through self-awareness of your own active lifestyle, and through physical assessments by a trainer or therapist, the overly strengthened and underdeveloped areas can be identified and corrected . It is important to stretch muscles and tendons that may be used excessively, but sometimes more important to strengthen their counterparts that have been repetitively lengthened, relaxed, and consequently weakened.
Prehabilitation refers to the management of both joint stability and mobility in commonly problematic areas, which in turn are often based on lifestyle. A skier for example heavily emphasizes quad and core based exercises in the off-season, however accessory exercises and prehab work also require attention. Movements opposite those used in everyday activity and sport need to be developed and included in training regimens. Skiers need to shift some focus to releasing and lengthening hip flexors, while strengthening hamstrings and lower back muscles as well. This would also remain true for those with desk jobs, where extended periods of time are spent in hip flexion. Individuals can be predisposed to certain injuries based on their lifestyle and vocation. Prehab exercises serve as a proactive approach to preventing pain and injury to the vulnerable or potentially problematic areas of the body.
Take time to understand the positions and movements you perform on a daily basis. If you have a regular routine at the gym, ensure you are complementing your main movements with exercises to target the opposite muscles as well. Implement joint balancing exercises in your daily routine to maintain joint stability and mobility, and help treat the pain before it happens.
For information about exercises for injury prevention, please contact the Orthopaedic Sport Institute at (705) 467-0701 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jordan McCarl, H. BScKin, CSCS
Strength & Conditioning Trainer