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Stretching: The Best Way for Fall Athletes To Avoid Sports Injuries

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young woman stretching her arm by pulling it across her chest

Most fall athletes are coming off a summer of limited activity. This can lead to preventable pain and soft tissue injuries that could last throughout the season.

High school athletes in particular should maintain some level of fitness in the off-season that needs to include stretching. Once practices get under way, there should be a ramp up to full level of activity after a summer break. This will help to prevent preseason and in-season injuries.

In addition to stretching, ice and ice soaks can be used during the week prior to return, as well as the week of return to fall sports.

Common Soft Tissue Injuries

Some common soft tissue injuries are:

Muscle strain -- This is when the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits or forced to contract with too much strength.

Hamstring strain -- There are three muscles behind the knee that make up the hamstring group. They are most often “pulled” when you overuse or overstretch them. The pain is caused by tears in the muscles. Sometimes bruising can occur with a hamstring strain.

Groin strain -- The inner thigh muscle is also called the groin. The groin muscles are used to help pull the legs together and are situated like a fan. Groin injuries also can cause bruising on the inside of the thigh and can take up to several weeks to heal with compression, ice and lots of rest.

Low back pain -- Low back pain can range from mild, dull, annoying pain, to persistent, severe, disabling pain in the lower back and may radiate into one or both buttocks or even into the thigh, hip, lower leg and foot. Pain in the lower back can restrict mobility and interfere with normal functioning.

Shin pain – This is a very common return to sport injury.  Shin pain can come from changes in foot wear or changes in surface. Other reasons may be a sudden increase in weight bearing and speed work. It can be a challenge for the body to accommodate going from flip flops to cleats all in one week.

Stretches To Avoid Soft Tissue Injuries

Much of these injuries can be prevented by pre-season stretching and light aerobic warm up.

Here are some stretches to try. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds without bouncing and repeat three times on each side.

Hamstring stretch: Lie on the floor on your back. Loop a long bath towel around the toes of one leg, holding the ends of the towel in each hand. Keep the leg without the towel stretched out on the floor. Slowly pull the towel toward your head while keeping the raised leg straight. Bring that leg up until you feel a stretch behind your thigh and possibly your calf.

Quadriceps stretch: From a standing position, keep your back and hips straight and lean slightly forward while tightening your abdominal muscles. Standing on one foot, bend the other leg behind you and grab the lifted foot or ankle with the same side hand. Gently pull your foot toward your buttocks.

Calf stretch: Stand a few feet away from a wall and place your hands on the wall. Press your heels into the floor and make sure your toes are pointed forward toward the wall. Step one leg forward and bend the knee over the toes. Make sure both heels are pressing into the floor.

Yoga also is a great way to stay limber.

Maureen Sizemore AT, PTA, EMT-B, is a UH athletic trainer and head athletic trainer at Saint Ignatius High School.

Related Links

At University Hospitals, our fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists, primary care doctors, nutritionists, sleep experts and other healthcare professionals ensure the very best in health and medical care for athletes. As the official healthcare partner for the Cleveland Browns, our team of experts provide care on and off the field, from peewee to pro. Learn more about sports medicine services at University Hospitals.

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