When will I be able to get back on the court? Am I ready to push, to run, to jump? Will I re-injure myself? I have some pain, should I tell my coach? What if my coach benches me if I say that something is hurting? My body has already taken a beating from sports… will this be the injury that takes me out for good?
These are some of the many questions that are often in the heads of almost every athlete, coach, trainer, therapist, or sports stakeholder at one point or another. Everyone wants to know the secret to pain-free sports.
I often get asked things like: “My back is hurting, what exercises can I do?” If you read my other blog about what biomechanists do, you probably remember that I emphasized that I am not a clinician, and that my scope of practice does not include rehabilitative sciences. Instead, I specialize in prevention… I am the sports scientist who can give you the data you need to improve your performance without sacrificing your musculoskeletal health, so you can play at your best without having to end up in rehabilitation.
If you are the athlete who sits by the bench with recurrent injuries, pain, or discomfort, I’d like to offer you some insights. I know how frustrating that can be! It’s super important that you understand that the path to pain-free sports has a series of stages that must be taken into account.
First, if you have an injury, it is important to first address the acute phase with the appropriate course of action, such as assessments and rehabilitation protocols to manage your pain and inflammation. For this, you will need a medical team, usually with a sports medicine doctor for diagnosis and a therapist (as an athlete I usually went to physiotherapists for the acute stages and MAT therapy to tune my body to move better when I couldn’t activate it on my own).
Once you get past this phase, your therapist will start working on improving the mobility, stability, proprioception, and strength of the joint of interest, and will progress you until you are able to perform the sport-specific activities required from your sport.
However, in the case of recurrent injuries, the process doesn’t end when you are discharged from physio. You may be working hard on your strength and conditioning program by your amazing coaching staff. However, if injuries keep happening, it may be time for you to start your own investigation to find out why on earth this keeps happening to you… And for that, you will need the right data!
“What is the right data?” you might ask. With the many flashy pieces of equipment that can give tons of data nowadays, many venture to use them without ensuring that measures are valid and reliable. By valid I mean that the measurement actually corresponds accurately to what you are trying to measure, and by reliable I mean that the measurements are consistent. It is important that these variables relate to the mechanical tendencies of the athlete, and to the sports demand.
This concept may be simple, but in practice, it’s a time consuming task that not many coaches have time to focus on. However, having the right data is worth considering since it has the potential to open the door to countless possibilities to improve performance. It means being able to pinpoint the components of your movement that are likely causing the wear and tear of your tissues. It means to have the ability to find targeted solutions, and being able to track your progress. It means learning about your body movement in ways that you wouldn’t be able to do if you were just receiving qualitative feedback.
Think about it, instead of making decisions about your training and therapeutic solutions based on your or your coaches’ thoughts about your progress, you’d be able to actually measure them. As you can see, the road is somewhat complex, but it is totally worth it because it is full of exciting opportunities for you to continue growing as an athlete. It really is all about how much you want it!