Athletes participating in winter sports should be aware of the possible related injuries and how to prevent them. Cold-weather sports and snow-shovelling place unique demands on the body that need to be considered. The most important concept to understand is the so-called viscoelastic property of the soft tissues in the body.
Think of the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) as rubber-like material. When rubber gets cold, it becomes less elastic, more brittle, and easier to crack. On the other hand, rubber will stretch farther and be more resilient if it is warmed up, and if the stretch takes place over a longer period of time. Your soft tissues respond in a similar fashion.
A pre-event warm-up and stretching routine is especially important in the winter months. Most experts agree that the pre-event warm-up is even more important than stretching before play. A proper warm-up will promote circulation to the soft tissues, making them more elastic and resistant to injury. You should spend about 10 minutes to go through a gentle version of the motions (running, throwing, twisting, etc.) of whatever sport you are playing.
Proper stretching after the warm-up, and then again after the activity is key for achieving optimal injury prevention. The problem is that stretching is usually done incorrectly. Most people stretch too far and too quickly. Stretches should be gentle, and produce a relaxing sensation of mild stretch or tension. There should be no pain, discomfort, or ballistic movement such as bouncing. The stretch should be held for about 30 seconds, but no less than 20. Stretching too intensely and/or for less than 20 seconds may initiate a “stretch reflex” which can actually cause the muscle to tighten-up even more.An excellent reference on stretching, and how to do it properly, is “Stretching”, by Bob Anderson. Included in the book are sport-specific stretching protocols.
Another injury prevention strategy is cross-training. Especially important for the “weekend warrior”, cross-training activities may help to keep muscles flexible yet strong in between your participation in the sport of your choice. Running, walking, biking, and specific stretching and strengthening exercises performed during the week can be particularly useful in preventing injuries on the sports field over the weekend. A sports-minded chiropractor, physical therapist, or athletic trainer should be able to help you design a personalized cross-training program.
Proper hydration is also very important, even in the cold weather. Fluid intake is very often neglected in the winter, because we don’t get as thirsty. However, remember that the human thirst mechanism is not sensitive to the early stages of dehydration. As a result, significant dehydration usually occurs before the sensation of thirst is recognized.
For endurance sports lasting more than two hours, it is recommended to drink 15 ounces of water before exercise, and then 15 to 30 ounces per hour of a cool 6% to 8% carbohydrate solution with about 500 mg of sodium. For proper recovery after the event, drink a beverage containing 5% to 10% carbohydrate with about 900 mg of sodium. No single sports drink is best–let trial and error be your guide in determining which feel best for you. For more information go to Proper Daily Nutrition.
As far as clothing is concerned, the biggest mistake athletes make is wearing cotton in the cold. Perspiration is absorbed in the cotton, making it wet, heavy, and cold. It is nearly impossible to keep your muscles warm and protect them from the cold if you are wearing cotton. A trip to the sport specialty store is a must to buy quality, high-tech clothing specific to your sport.
If these preventive measures fail, and you sustain an injury, follow the common sense self-treatment guidelines of PRICES: Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and gentle Stretching. If these measures fail to resolve your symptoms within a few days or your injury continues to reoccur, call us to schedule an appointment.