As spring arrives, many people are returning to their favorite warm weather sports. For many students and adult athletes, this means a return to track and field. It is important to educate yourself about the common injuries associated with your sport in order to guard yourself against back pain and other conditions that can take you out of competition.
A number of injuries can occur during any sport. The following describes a few common injuries associated with the various activities of track and field.
Most people, whether athletes or office workers, tend to have weaker hamstrings than quadriceps. This imbalance causes the pelvis to be pulled down in front and increases the lumbar arch. As the back arches in more, the discs in between vertebrae are compressed unevenly and the spinal joints are strained. Combined with the jolting force your body experiences as your feet pound against the ground when running, joint and disc problems become likely. Weak hamstrings are also susceptible to strains. Runners should take special care to ensure their quads and hamstrings are balanced in strength and flexibility.
Another muscle group runners should be aware of is the hip flexor group, particularly the psoas. This muscle is used when bringing the thigh and upper body closer together. The psoas connects the lumbar spine to the thigh bone and is used heavily when running. Tight, inflexible psoas muscles pull down on the pelvis and create the exaggerated lumbar arch that tight quads create. Running without regaining flexibility of the psoas will likely worsen its rigidity and exacerbate pelvic misalignment, which in turn causes lower back pain.
Regular stretching and myofascial release can help achieve muscles that are balanced in strength and flexibility. The assistance of a physical therapist is beneficial to people with sports injuries.
Muscle strains are common among hurdlers, especially in the groin and thigh. Groin strain is generally a sign of either bad form or overuse. If you feel groin pain on the side of your trail leg, you may be swinging your leg out too far or too late. If the pain is on the side of your lead leg, you may be doing too many drills with the hurdles close together.
Hamstring strains are a common overuse injury acquired by hurdlers. The hamstring of the lead leg undergoes an eccentric contraction during a hurdle jump, which means it contracts as it is being lengthened by the leg’s straightening. This type of contraction comes with a high risk of muscle tearing. The trail leg works hard to push the body off the ground. Hamstring strain is a sign to stop, rest, and warm up sufficiently before practicing.
More troubling than a simple muscle strain, hurdlers have to watch out for sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction. The sacroiliac joints form where the hip bones meet the sacrum at the base of the spine.
Injuries to the SI joints generally occur when the muscles and ligaments that support them are weakened, torn or tightened. The tremendous forces sustained by the pelvis when pushing off the ground can, over time, destabilize the pelvis, causing significant joint pain. Proper form, adequate rest time, good conditioning and sufficient warmup time can help prevent this condition.
Whether it’s a javelin, discus or shot put, throwers are susceptible to similar injuries. Throwers in track and field use muscles throughout the whole body to build momentum; javelin throwers run, while shot putters and discus throwers spin.
The most common throwing injury occurs to the shoulder. Rotator cuff injuries affect the set of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder, giving it stability and allowing up-and-down and rotational movement of the arm. Repeated throwing can cause tears to the muscles or tendons.
Hip and lower back strains may also occur in throwers, particularly discus throwers and shot putters who twist their bodies as part of their throw. Javelin throwers may also strain muscles throughout the back when lunging forward to throw the javelin.
The best defense against throwing injuries is to avoid overworking your arm and back. Know your limits and take adequate rest periods between practices.
Many sports injuries can be prevented with warmup, conditioning, self-myofascial release and the willingness to give your body the time it needs to recover. Whatever your track and field activity, approach it in a way that will allow you to enjoy your sport for many years to come.