Playing netball, like many other high impact contact sports, runs the risk of knee injury on a regular basis. However, each sport places its own challenges on the knee joint and tissues but there are some things, which can be done to prevent or reduce the risk of knee injury.
Here, our physio and Bristol Manager Leanne lists her top 5 tips to prevent knee injuries.
1) Warm up properly
Tennis requires the player to use their knees for sudden changes of direction, as well as large lunges in all directions. Footballers must be able to kick with full force, whilst also standing on one leg. This means footballers need to bear their full weight on their knee joints whilst staying steady. Therefore, as each sport requires different movement patterns, each sport will have a completely different warm up.
The warm up for your sport should do several things. Firstly, it must get your core body temperature high enough so that your tissues become more flexible. This can be done with some jogging or cycling or simply walking slowly. After this, the body joints, including the knee must be taken through the full range of movement that might be necessary within the activity it is about to do. This must be done repeatedly to ensure the joints are fully mobilised and ready to take on the activity ahead.
For footballers warming up their knees, this might include swinging it fully backwards and forwards as if pretending to strike a ball 20-30 times, getting bigger and faster as you repeat the movement. For a tennis player it may involve a lunge movement 20-30 times, gradually getting deeper into the movement. These movements will warm up the joints, prepare the tissues for the future activity and limit the risk of injury.
2) Avoid Static Stretching
In recent years evidence has emerged that static stretching, where you hold a stretch of a particular muscle, may not actually enhance muscle length. More worryingly, there has been some evidence emerging that suggests the injury rate may increase if people are static stretching before a sporting activity. For example, there is a higher incidence of hamstring tears in footballers that static stretch prior to a game. This injury rate was reduced if they stuck to dynamic stretching (stretching through a movement) when warming up. For the knee, it’s best to take the hamstring and quadricep muscles through a full range of repeated movement as described above, and avoid those static stretches before a game!
3) Stretch If You’re Stiff
Conversely, stretching can be a good idea if you are stiff or tight in certain movements and muscles. This may be something you have noticed yourself or it may be something a physiotherapist has pointed out to you. If these muscles need to be able to stretch to a certain length during your sport, it is important to work on this range and maintain this flexibility. There are a wide variety of opinions on how long and how often you should stretch for optimum results. It appears that greater than 20 seconds gives the best results, 2-3 times per day. This needs to be done on a daily basis to see improvement in flexibility. You can always do your stretches at a different time of the day to playing your sport.
4) Work on Your Balance, Reactions and Body Awareness.
Most sports are performed at fast speeds and involve changing direction. Some sports such as rugby and basketball involve unanticipated contact with other people and so can catch the player unawares. For these movements, your knee muscles need to be strong but importantly they need to react to these unexpected shoves, pushes, change of direction and fast movements accurately and quickly. It is no use your hamstrings kicking in three seconds after you have landed from a jump, as they won’t be there to prevent the knee buckling or the joint ligaments taking too much strain. Structures in the knee such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus are designed to withstand compression and twisting movements, but they do have their limitations. If the muscles are over stretched through excessive rotation, this can lead to injury. Working on your balance and proprioception (the message system between the tissues and the brain) to make your knee muscles react fast and accurately is vital to any high-level activity.
5) Stay Strong!
My husband Ben runs MTB Strength Factory, strength and fitness training providers to cyclists, and he advises that you should never use the sport as the training, but train for your sport by strengthening the muscles you use most. If you want to do a particular sport that demands a lot of your body, you must be strong for your sport. For the knee this may involve pure strength work or plyometric work for the hamstrings and quadriceps. Plyometric exercise aims to train the elastic strength and power of muscles and may involve jumps and push-ups.
Prevention is always better than cure. If you’re concerned about your overall fitness and want to be prepared for playing your chosen sport, call us today to arrange an appointment with one of our physios.