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Exercise for injury prevention – What works best?

We’ve all heard the phrase prevention is better than cure. And in the case of injury management it is absolutely true. Injury prevention is cheaper, easily accessible and does not need much assistance. Injury treatment on the other hand is expensive, time-consuming and can often be challenging.

There is huge amounts of information showing the benefits of exercise on our overall health. Exercise has proven to be affective in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, mental health and the list goes on.

As great as exercise is, there is always the risk of injury. Injury is always difficult to predict and therefore is hard to prevent. However, there is good news. Research has come a long way over the last few years in identifying what works and what doesn’t regarding injury prevention.

Today we will be looking at a study which analysed the effectiveness of strength training, proprioception training, stretching and a combination of all on acute and overuse injury prevention. This review looked at over 25 studies, over 3000 injuries and had over 25,000 participants.

What works?

Strength Training

Get strong!! The most effective type of exercise for injury prevention is strength training. It can reduce sport injury risk by as high as 70% compared to those that do not train. We all know strength training is good for us. But what was also interesting about this study is it reviewed a number of different programs and different injuries, all with the same results. This indicates that no matter what the program or what the injury, strength training is good for overall injury prevention.

Proprioception Training

Proprioception training or neuromuscular training is aimed at improving proprioceptive function. Proprioception is the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body within our environment. This form of training uses tactile surfaces and visual distraction during the performance of various tasks. Balance is an important component of proprioception training, however it is more than just balancing on the spot.

It has been shown to have a 50% reduction in injury risk compared to no training. This is still a significant comparison, however not as high as strength training. Most well prescribed strength training programs will have a component of proprioception training.

Combination Training Programs

Combination training programs involved a mixture of strength training, proprioception training, stretching, HIIT, cardio, etc. Surprisingly this type of training program has been shown to be less effective compared to strength training and proprioception alone. Combination training programs only showed a 20-30% injury risk reduction.

The thought behind this is that you are doing less proportion of the most beneficial form of injury prevention (strength training) and therefore reducing the effectiveness of the program as a whole. Now that is not to say that these other forms of exercise are not important. We are only talking about injury prevention here, not overall health or sports performance. You can’t be a soccer player without soccer training. You can’t be a runner without running. Sport specific training is still an important part of an overall training program.

What doesn’t work?

Stretching has no effect on injury prevention, whether it is done before or after a exercise. So is stretching a waste of time? Not necessarily. Again, this is only referring to injury prevention. Stretching can still improve flexibility, joint mobility and decreases muscle tension.

So the big take home message is that strength training is the most effective training method in preventing injury. Get strong and stay active. That alone will significantly reduce your chance of picking up an injury by up to 70%!