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Commentary Oct 02, 2012

Are injuries bad luck, or preventable?

By Jennifer Schwartz

Editor’s note: Jennifer Schwartz is the owner of Impact Fitness DC, a professional private training company providing fitness services to female athletes, teams, individuals, and small groups in Washington, D.C. She holds a certified mastery in biomechanics with a specialization in resistance training and muscle activation techniques™, and is also a United States Soccer Federation-licensed coach with the Alexandria Soccer Association. Soccer Wire is very pleased to present Jennifer’s perspectives on biomechanics and injury prevention.

As an expert in sports injury prevention, and a member of the soccer community, I’ve witnessed the harmful progression of a perspective that it’s an accepted norm for athletes to compete while injured.

Most players simply brush it off, considering this time spent on the sidelines as bad luck, that being tired and worn out from less than optimal joint conditions is the way a player is supposed to train.

I believe that most injuries are completely preventable. If an athlete is taught how to manage their performance through self-awareness and education, they will become an expert on how to understand the plasticity of their own muscular thresholds – and just as importantly, how to restore balance to the system once it’s been under stress.

This exact question was raised in the August 2012 publication of The British Journal of Sports Medicine Blog (BJSM). When Manchester City won the 2012 English Premier League title, an investigation by the website carried out research that tracked lost injury days in the Premier League.

The results spoke clearly. Manchester United lost 1,618 days to injury, and the winning team, Manchester City, lost a fraction of that at 168 days. According to the study, a “significant injury” is defined as one that keeps an athlete out of competition and training for 14 days. With these statistics, Manchester United had the most players suffering “significant injuries” in the 2011-2012 campaign with 39, versus only seven players classified as such with Manchester City.

The BJSM blog offered this explanation: “The majority of injuries are probably not preventable and are the inevitable result of the physical demands placed upon players in the Premier League.”

No doubt the demands of a professional athlete are unarguably high, but the fact that competing with significant injury is dismissed as a matter of bad luck, even in some of the deepest squads, is further evidence to the idea that competing in an injured state is considered the norm.

The ability to train your body to be tuned into its own strengths and weaknesses is considerably more difficult than brushing off injury as inevitable. Injury prevention training needs to be understood from a biomechanical perspective: the focus is maintaining the integrity of an optimally functioning muscular system. Through the guidance and education of a professional, the weaknesses (and we all have them) can be identified, strengthened and ultimately maintained in the form of fastest and most efficient performance.

Though briefly, the British Journal of Sports Medicine Blog makes a case for allocating portions of an organization’s budget for injury prevention programs. As an expert in this field, I believe this is an important message: A healthy team will function better than an injury-ridden team.

Some of the most exceptional clubs have created training facilities equipped with medical centers where players can get immediate and thorough medical attention for injuries. The players are also given personalized injury prevention programs and injury prevention experts at their beck and call.

AC Milan’s Milanello Sports Center is legendary for prolonging the careers of the Italian club’s veteran players in this regard, though it’s poised to meet its match in Manchester United’s  proposed £13 million medical facility at the United training grounds in Carrington, opening later this year. The facility plans are directly related to the Red Devils’ injury-ridden 2011-12 season.

In conjunction with technology by Toshiba, this cutting-edge facility will care and provide for injuries and joint instabilities, working to create awareness – in every athlete – of their own strengths and weaknesses and in the long term, creating a healthier and more enduring athlete, in any condition.

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