Pacing Yourself: How to return to sport successfully
December 22, 2021, Lisa Baker, Editor, Wellbeing news
After months of relative inactivity during the COVID-19 pandemic, professional and amateur athletes alike may be finding that their bodies are now being put to the test as mass participation events, team activities and matches return to the sporting calendar
During times of lockdown, research showed that 12.5 million (27.5%) of the entire UK adult population, averaged less than 30 minutes of even moderately intense exercise per week1, with 50% citing that joint pain had prevented them from taking part in sport or physical activity of any kind over the past 12 months2.
And, considering that gyms, public courts and pitches and other sporting venues were closed for significant periods of time, it is no surprise that returning to sport is now taking a toll on the bodies of athletes from all backgrounds and abilities, with sports injuries reportedly on the rise across the board.
The seasons for high-impact sports such as rugby and football have recently resumed, and the ski season looks to be a busy one with many people taking the opportunity to hit the slopes having missed out last year. So, what can you do to help reduce your risk of injury and successfully return to enjoying the sports you love?
Sean Curry, Consultant Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon at The London Orthopaedic Clinic King Edward VII’s Hospital, walks us through some top tips on how to keep your training on track and your body match-ready:
1. Warm up:
Cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable to injury such as sprains, strains and ruptures. A good warm-up raises your body temperature, which is particularly helpful to your muscles, improving elasticity and allowing for efficient cooling. Increasing your muscle temperature allows oxygen to become more available to your muscles which helps them to contract and relax more easily so you’ll be able to perform more strenuous tasks with ease.
Improved muscle elasticity will also allow for efficient cooling, meaning less chance of accidentally hurting yourself or overheating during your workout and ruining your day!
Food (aka, fuel) is comprised of many nutrients, minerals, vitamins and a ratio of carbohydrates, protein and fats. Carbohydrate is the primary energy source for muscles. It is important to have a diet high in carbohydrates; this should be about 50-60% of your diet. Protein helps to build and repair body tissue and should be around 12- to 15% of your diet. Fat is an energy source that insulates the body against cold and cushions vital organs. Fat burns most efficiently when combined with carbohydrates. Approximately 20-25% of your diet should come from fat, with only 10% of it coming from saturated fat.
Balance, speed and even your risk of injury all rely on wearing and using the right equipment for the correct surface. Whether that’s firm or soft ground football boots or choosing the right running shoe for you – making sure you have the equipment that suits your needs is important when you return to sport. It is also important to remember that if your sport requires specific safety equipment like a gumshield for rugby or a helmet for skiing that you ensure you have these with you, and that they fit properly before taking part.
4. Pace yourself
Unfortunately, it’s easier (and more common) than you think to hurt yourself in the quest for good health, so when returning to sport it is important to take it slowly when building back up to your best! Those returning to exercise after a good few months on the sofa during lockdown may need to curb their enthusiasm a little. Refraining from going straight back into full contact sports and maybe avoiding those black slopes / going off-piste (until your body has acclimated to the new stresses and potential muscle aches) can really help reduce your risk of injury.
5. Rest & recovery
Unfortunately, when returning to sport after some time off the risk of injury is sadly always there. If you have any pre-existing injuries, it is recommended that your check with your GP or another healthcare professional before you return to sport – why not book in for a musculoskeletal / pre-season MOT? You may also want to consider using support aids such as knee and ankle grips as well.
For some people, injuries and wear-and-tear can result in long term, chronic conditions such as knee osteoarthritis (OA) which are not only painful but can go on to limit everyday activities. The impact can be devastating, making it very difficult to return to any sort of high-impact exercise such as skiing. There’s no cure for knee osteoarthritis and if it deteriorates over time, partial or full invasive knee replacement surgery has, until recently, been the only option – often incurring long recovery times and months of physiotherapy.
Fortunately, new non-surgical treatment options are now becoming available including a novel hydrogel solution – Arthrosamid® – involving just a single injection, helping to cushion the knee joint to provide long lasting relieve pain and improve mobility.
Finally, don’t underestimate your body’s need for rest and recovery time! It’s important to give your body adequate amounts of “downtime” to aid muscle recovery and relieve soreness.
So, plan in rest days and make sure you get plenty of quality sleep.