Screening for muscle imbalances is the current cutting edge of injury prevention. The rationale behind this is that there are detectable and correctable abnormalities of muscle strength and length that are fundamental to the development of almost all musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. Detection of these abnormalities and correction before injury has occurred should be part of any injury prevention strategy. Assessment of muscle strength and balance and regular sports massage can be beneficial in this strategy.

Muscle stiffness refers to the ratio between the change in muscle resistance and the change in muscle length. Muscle stiffness is directly related to muscle injury risk and so it is important to reduce muscle stiffness as part of a warm up. Research has indicated that only dynamic stretches – slow controlled movements through the full range of motion – decrease muscle stiffness. Static exercises did not decrease muscle stiffness. Static stretches are perhaps more appropriate for the cool down as they help to relax the muscles and increase their range of movement.

A trigger point (TP) is a thick knot in a muscle that is tender or even painful to the touch. Trigger points can be caused by training errors, inadequate preparation, worn shoes or equipment, poor biomechanics, muscle fatigue, poor flexibility, nutritional factors and psychological factors such as a lack of sleep or stress. Treatment of a TP (separating the fibres of the muscle knot) can be achieved by applying direct pressure to the point for 10 to 20 seconds, gradually releasing the pressure and repeating the process 4 of 5 times. Trigger points are an early warning to a potential serious injury so checking for TPs is very beneficial.

Resistance training can fortify muscles and make them less susceptible to damage, especially if the strength building exercises involve movements that are similar to those associated with the sport. Time should be devoted to developing the muscle groups, strength training, appropriate to the demands of your sport. If you are a thrower then lots of time should be spent developing muscles at the front of the shoulder that increases the force with which you can throw, but you must also work systematically on the muscles at the back of the shoulder which control and stabilize the shoulder joint.

There are some predictors of injury that apply to all sports. For example, fatigued muscles do a poor job of protecting their associated connective tissues, increasing the risk of damage to bone, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. If you increase your training load or train for consecutive days make sure you allow for recovery. Recovery time reduces injury rates by giving muscles and connective tissues an opportunity to restore and repair themselves between work-outs.

Injury prevention tips:

1. Avoid training when you are tired.
2. Increase your consumption of carbohydrate during periods of heavy training.
3. Increase in training should be matched with increases in resting.
4. Any increase in training load should be preceded by an increase in strengthening.
5. Treat even seemingly minor injuries very carefully to prevent them becoming a big problem.
6. If you experience pain when training STOP your training session immediately.
7. Never train hard if you are stiff from the previous effort.
8. Pay attention to hydration and nutrition.
9. Use appropriate training surfaces.
10. Check training and competition areas are clear of hazards.
11. Check equipment is appropriate and safe to use.
12. Introduce new activities very gradually.
13. Allow lots of time for warming up and cooling off.
14. Check over training and competition courses beforehand.
15. Train on different surfaces, using the right footwear.
16. Shower and change immediately after the cool down.
17. Aim for maximum comfort when traveling.
18. Stay away from infectious areas when training or competing very hard.
19. Be extremely fussy about hygiene in hot weather.
20. Monitor daily for signs of fatigue, if in doubt ease off.