Tackling Injuries Head On

Tackling Injuries Head On

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By Dr Matt Windsor BChiroSc MChiro ICSSD CCWP

Every sport has risk – it’s part of the thrill for some, but injuries can have a devastating effect. You only have to witness the effects on Newcastle NRL player Alex McKinnon. After suffering a broken neck and spinal cord damage, that split second has changed his life forever and his road to recovery is an enduring one.

In a National Health Survey listed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), it was estimated that 367,200 Australians reported receiving a recent injury from participating in organised sports, with two thirds of those being male.

The ABS also reported that 545,000 people reported a longterm condition resulting from sporting injuries. At around 35 per cent, back pain is the most prevalent condition, then joint injury at 14 per cent and long-term injuries relating to the knee at 10 per cent. In total, chronic injuries resulting from sport account for one quarter of all injury-related long-term conditions.

In the case of rugby union and rugby league, the Rugby Union Injury Surveillance Study (RUISS) found that 31.2 per cent of injuries occurred from being tackled, with a further 15.4 per cent occurring to the tacklers themselves. That’s almost 50 per cent of total injuries occurring in the tackling phase of play, unfortunately just like we saw with McKinnon.

So how do we better prepare ourselves to avoid injuries? There are two factors that come into play: injury prevention and injury recovery.

HOW DO WE TREAT INJURIES ONCE SUSTAINED AND HOW DO WE PREVENT OR REDUCE THE LIKELIHOOD OF INJURIES OCCURRING IN THE FIRST PLACE? PRACTISE THE CORRECT TACKLE TECHNIQUE. Skills, such as the correct head position in a tackle and maintaining the optimal body height to make a tackle and to take a tackle on.

PRACTISE THE CORRECT FALLING TECHNIQUE. Once a tackle has commenced and the initial hit on a player is made, the risk of injury is not over. How each player then hits the ground is another huge risk factor. Training to fall appropriately is a basic skill and will assist to avoid a huge range of injuries.

ADEQUATE STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING. Without adequate cardiovascular fitness or muscular development the body is ill-prepared for the rigours of physical contact. Injuries are far more likely to occur in the early games of the season, when players have not acquired adequate fitness, or toward the end of a season, when fatigue and over-exertion come into play.

USE PROTECTIVE WEAR. Mouth guards and headgear are encouraged for protection. Studies have demonstrated, however, that the use of shoulder pads has little or no benefit in preventing shoulder injuries.

UNDERSTAND THE CONDITIONS. This has several parts: firstly, the analysis of the environmental conditions. Weather, temperature and field quality such as potholes and length of turf are important. Secondly, an analysis of the opposing team is vital. A vast percentage of injuries occur when teams are mismatched in player physical attributes and skill levels, with the weaker of the two experiencing heavy casualties.

SEEK AN ASSESSMENT FROM A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL to detect if any underlying predisposition to injuries may be present or to enhance the player’s physiology to better perform.

Prevention is a fundamental part of what chiropractors do. Not only is chiropractic excellent in preventing the likelihood of injury but it can also be a secret weapon in enhancing performance. The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and spinal cord, which is protected by the spinal vertebrae. It is responsible for integrating sensory information and enabling the body to respond accordingly.

You could think of the spinal cord as a conduit relaying signals between the brain and your muscles, tissues and vital organs. Physiological functions like balance, proprioception and spatial awareness, hand-to eye co-ordination, strength, cardiovascular output and recovery, metabolic rate, visual referencing, reaction time, muscle performance and response are all governed by these messages.

A diminished nervous system is a diminished athlete. The ability to avoid an injury can quite often come down to how well an athlete is able to adapt to situations that arise. Any interruption  or ‘sluggishness’ of these messages up and down the spine can result in a slow response injury such as an unexpected or aggressive collision with another player.

Appropriate treatment and regular check-ups with a health professional can also decrease the risk of musculoskeletal injury. Ensuring vital resources are not misallocated to inefficiencies in the body, fatigue is reduced and strength improve fitness and overall performance.

In the unfortunate occurrence of injury, a quick recovery is a good recovery. Statistics show a large proportion of injuries develop into long-term conditions, with 35 per cent being back pain. What might seem like a minor or insignificant injury may develop into a chronic and much more difficult condition to resolve.

Appropriate management of even minor injuries is vital to ensure a quick return to play for the player. It’s also important to minimise any potential for that injury to become a larger issue, which may eliminate them from the game altogether or, worse still, create a diminished quality of life for the future.

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