Sports injuries include a wide variety of soft tissue, skeletal and joint-related injuries associated with physical exercise, sporting events and various athletic activities. Most common injuries are strains, sprains, dislocations, fractures, lacerations, cuts, abrasions, blisters, bruising, inflammation and pain. At least twenty percent of all reported accidents are related to sports.
Outside of direct impact-injuries, other symptoms include delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), muscle cramps or stitches, exercise-induced asthma, upper respiratory tract infection, compromised immune function and increased susceptibility to cataracts and premature aging. The degree of impairment or tissue damage caused by sport related activity greatly depends on the athlete's present state of health and physical condition. Other variables include exercise frequency, training intensity, quality of diet and sport specificity.
The Difference Between Strains and Sprains
The difference between a strain and a sprain is one of intensity and location. A strain describes the change which occurs in the shape of a muscle or soft tissue when acted upon by external forces or resistance, such as a throwing movement. A strained muscle is an overstretched muscle and may cause inflammation and pain. A sprain is specific to ligament injury. This occurs when a joint is carried through a greater-than-normal range of motion, but without dislocation or fracture. Ligaments are tough, fibrous bands of connective tissue that attach bones together.
Sprains often involve wrenching or twisting a joint, with partial rupture to its attachments. Damage to supporting blood vessels, muscles, tendons, ligaments or nerves may be extensive. Considerable swelling and pain result due to underlying hemorrhage from ruptured blood vessels, which causes partial or complete immobility. The ankles, lower back and knees are particularly vulnerable to sprains.
The Causes of Sports Injuries
Most sport injuries are preventable. Periodized training protocols make allowance for strenuous training regimes by advocating a cycling approach, which varies training intensity, exercises, sets and repetitions. This technique, combined with cross-training, helps protect the athlete from overtraining problems. Cross-training alternates methods of exercise, such as swimming or in-line skating, instead of doing running only. Persistent muscle pain, insomnia, irritability, fatigue, depression and frequent colds or infection may indicate either overtraining or inadequate nutrition.
Many injuries are caused by improper training technique. Poor flexibility and muscle imbalance also expose an athlete to unnecessary injury. These can be corrected through regular stretching and a balanced, symmetrical workout regime.
Athletes who play injured risk permanent damage. Minor injuries must be given time to heal. Continued stress exacerbates the injury and complicates the recovery process, forcing exemption from competition or premature retirement. Many Olympic and professional athletes learned this lesson the hard way. Inadequate rest and sleep deprivation also increase susceptibility to injury, as fatigue weakens the body and the immune system. Sleep and rest are essential to the mind. If the center which controls coordination, motor dexterity and neurocognitive function is compromised, the athlete may collide with opponents or stationary obstacles which might otherwise be avoided.
Injuries resulting directly from physical impact, such as those experienced in boxing, rugby, football and hockey, include concussions, broken bones, lacerations, twisted knees and severe sprains. Even many non-contact sports, such as basketball and soccer, also involve unavoidable collisions, resulting in abrasions, fractures and severe bruising. Appropriate padding and protective gear is essential for these sports.
Many experts in exercise management and sports nutrition confirm that exhaustive, high-intensity exercise increases free-radical production in the body. Uncontrolled free-radical activity is associated with oxygen damage in the muscles, liver, joints, blood and brain. It is this dark side of oxygen, and not lactic acid, that is responsible for much of the muscle soreness, tissue damage and inflammation frequently accompanying athletic training and competition. Athletes breathe up to twenty times the volume of oxygen consumed by sedentary people, creating millions of reactive oxygen species, including hydroxyl radicals, superoxides and hydroperoxides. Individual muscle fibers may experience up to 200 times more than their normal concentration of oxygen, causing filament damage and soreness.
Exercise causes a natural shift in blood flow and oxygen supply. Large quantities of blood are diverted to working muscles, causing other body regions to become oxygen deprived. When exercise is completed, blood rushes back to these other areas causing a powerful release of free radicals. This process is called reperfusion. Free radicals also form in the absence of oxygen. In anaerobic exercises such as weight training or sprinting, large working muscles that contract under heavy resistance become oxygen-deprived. During rest, blood and oxygen return to the recovering muscle, causing an explosion of free radicals. If the number of free radicals exceeds the ability of the athlete's cellular antioxidant defense system, cell membranes, mitochondria and DNA become susceptible to damage. This causes problems in the respiratory tract, the vital organs and any of the articular joint systems, such as the knee or shoulders and hips.
Water is an essential nutrient for athletes and this is starting to be reflected in food guides. For instance, while the USDA Food Pyramid features bread, cereal, rice and pasta, the Zone Food Pyramid emphasizes water consumption. The Zone Food Pyramid recognizes that water is required in amounts greater than any other nutrient, yet few athletes consume enough of it. A minimum of one ounce per kilogram of total body weight per day is recommended (e.g. 175 lb./2.2 = 80 kg or 80 oz. or eight 10 oz. glasses). Water should be filtered free of all industrial chemicals, chlorine and any other contaminants.
Drink clean, pure water constantly throughout the day to prehydrate cells in preparation for workouts and competition because, during exercise, water leaves the body faster than it is consumed and absorbed. Exercise raises the core temperature of the body, forcing a diversion of blood to the skin for cooling purposes. If insufficient water is consumed, cardiac problems and muscle dehydration may ensue, reducing performance, strength and stamina.
The diet of every athlete should also provide a wholesome, natural food base rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, active enzymes and essential nutrients. Alkaline foods, including fresh fruits, raw juices and multicolored vegetables, are helpful. They offset the negative effects of acidic waste, which increases in the blood during exercise and through the consumption of sulfur-rich protein and phosphorus-rich whole grains.
The percentage of recommended macronutrients such as protein, fat and carbohydrate, is not static or universal. It is better to design the ratio of these important fuels and building blocks according to individual biochemistry, gender, age and body type. Training objectives should always be considered and, ideally, the frequency and intensity of the athlete's training commitment should be factored in, as well as the nature and demands of the particular sport. Sports nutrition is an art and a modern science. It is much more than just counting calories and eating on the run. The quality of food and its delivery throughout the day in relation to training, both before and especially after, is critical. Smaller portions consumed frequently throughout the day, referred to as incremental food partitioning, enhances digestion, nutrient absorption and enhances anabolism and increases the metabolic rate.
Strength training and heavy resistance exercise increases the need for protein, and if the supply is insufficient, the body will cannibalize its own internal structure to maintain homeostasis. Nitrogen balance studies on athletes throughout the world show that even endurance athletes require more protein than what the RNI recommends, due to increased amino acid oxidation.
Although protein consumption does not in itself control growth, the demand for protein increases due to the impact of training on the neuromuscular and immune systems. Very little protein is required for the actual growth and remodeling process because, even when stimulated, muscle grows very slowly. It is the impact of heavy and voluminous exercise which drains the amino pool from within the body.
The biological value (BV) of protein measures the ability of any given protein to replace nitrogen in the cell. This is important, because maintaining a constant state of positive nitrogen balance is critical for growth and recovery from illness, infection and injury. The higher the BV of a protein, the higher the nitrogen retention or quality of the protein. Cultured dairy products, free-range eggs and low-fat, organic tissue proteins represent traditional food sources of high-quality, high-BV proteins.
Soy, rice, legume and gluten-based vegetable proteins may be used as an alternative to animal proteins. Plant proteins have less biological value than tissue proteins but are generally much lower in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol or arachidonic acid. Fermented whole, organically grown and non-GMO soy proteins in particular contains the isoflavones genistein and diadzein, which are known to neutralize free radicals, increase bone density by reducing the formation of osteoclasts (cells that degrade bone), and more.
The important factors in carbohydrates are their complexity, fiber content and glycemic index. Yams, steel-cut oats and many raw vegetables release natural sugars slowly into the bloodstream, preventing the insulin surge now associated with immune system dysfunction and weight management problems. Blood sugar stability fosters a constant stream of anabolic hormones that athletes depend on for growth and repair. Carbohydrates represent good fuel sources but, unlike protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, they have no known essential minimum value.
The two essential fatty acids (EFAs), which include linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, are indispensable to life, optimum health and athletic function. Without them, tissue elasticity, muscle flexibility and joint motion are lost. They regulate cell metabolism and influence the production, release and receptivity of prostaglandins, eicosanoids and hormones. Quality muscle depends on a reliable intake of high-quality living fats. These same properties attract oxygen and light which, inside the cell, liberates the energy cells need to oxidize fuel. Omega-3 fatty acids are of particular importance, due to their common absence in the standard American diet. Good-quality, non-refined omega-6s should also be consumed regularly. A dietary balance of 2 or 3:1 in favor of Omega3 is recommended. Fresh organic oils including flax, hemp, extra virgin olive and some of the newer balanced oils are good choices. Additional omega is found in concentrated algae, cold-water fish and wild game.
Nutritional Supplements to Prevent Injuries
Sports medical physicians frequently prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to injured athletes such as Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. There is also a wide range of nutritional supplements which are just as effective without side-effects.
Glucosamine, which the body synthesizes from glucose and glutamine, stimulates the manufacture of sugars essential to spinal cartilage, tendons and disks. Cartilage tears and ruptured joint membranes inhibit the formation of glucosamine. Taking a supplement of glucosamine sulfate is exceptionally safe, and provides additional sulfur important to the healing process.
Bromelain and protease are excellent natural anti-inflammatories. Bromelain is derived from pineapple and, when taken on an empty stomach, blocks the action of chemicals, which aggravate swelling and cause pain. Protease helps to clear the toxins which accumulate when cells and capillaries suffer damage through trauma or surgery. Enzyme therapy diminishes pain, reduces the duration of inflammation and heals wounds faster with less scar formation.
Antioxidant supplements help strengthen the immune system by neutralizing free radicals before they cause tissue and cell membrane damage. They also support cellular defenses by boosting levels of the body's own antioxidant enzymes, including catalase, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase. Any effective regime of antioxidant supplements would include a broad spectrum of both fat- and water-soluble nutrients, including a mixture of carotenoids, flavonoids, proanthocyanidins, niacin, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, vitamin C and E, the minerals zinc, selenium and magnesium, the amino acids N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) and glutathione, and the pineal hormone melatonin.
Antioxidants work best as a synergistic team against injury-induced free radicals. Higher doses of water-soluble nutrients such as vitamins B and C should be taken in divided quantities throughout the day to maximize absorption and maintain continuous saturation. Vitamin C should be consumed to bowel tolerance.
Injury and convalescence increase the demand for proteins known for easy passage and superior nitrogen retention. Organically grown non-GMO fermented soy proteins boost immune function very effectively because they strengthen and improve hormonal responses. They are also are also anti-inflammatory remedies that are very effective natural painkillers. The fermentation process with beneficial probiotic bacteria makes available the aglycone, or the most easily bioavailable form of the isoflavones genistein and daidzein. This in turn affects positively its digestion, absorption, assimilation in the body.
Fermented soy proteins can be added to smoothies, protein shakes, fresh juices, meal replacements, oatmeal, yogurt or muffin mixes.
Fermented whole organically grown non-GMO soybeans are known as complete foods because they contain most of the essential amino acids needed by the body. These amino acids also include ornithine, arginine, glutamine and lysine and help to further reinforce the immune system. These amino acids also contribute to the rapid healing of bone fractures and stronger scar-tissue formation.
Also essential to conditioning are creatine, glutamine, tyrosine or taurine, due to the stressful nature of heavy training loads and competition. High-volume and intense training also increases the need for essential nutrients above the RDA or RNI, as exercise creates metabolic demands not observed in sedentary individuals.
DLPA (D,L-phenylalanine) helps ease pain and minimize discomfort. DLPA is more effective for chronic, rather than acute pain relief.
- Glucosamine sulfate, 1,000-2,000 mg three times daily for ten days, then 500 mg three times daily
- Essential fatty acids, 500-1,000 mg three times daily
- OKG, 2-4 grams with each meal
- Ion-exchange whey peptides, 20-40 grams two to six times daily
- L-glutamine, 2-4 grams two to six times daily
- Grape seed or pine bark extract, 50-100 mg three times daily for ten days, then 25-50 mg three times daily
- NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine), 500-1,000 mg twice daily
- Vitamin B complex, 100 mg, twice daily
- Vitamin C, 500 mg, several times per day
- Antioxidant complex, as directed on the label
- Daily dosages, empty stomach:
- Protease plant enzyme complex, 60-120 mg three times daily
- Bromelain, 250-500 mg three times daily