Warm up properly to avoid muscle strains

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

Muscle strains in sport are inevitable and often unavoidable even at the very top level.

Right now at your club there is a very good chance that one or two players are on the sidelines with an injury to one of their muscles.

Newcastle's Sammy Ameobi, Sunderland's Phil Bardsley, Stoke's Michael Owen and Man City pair James Milner and Jack Rodwell are just some of the players who will not be on Match of the Day this weekend due to some form of muscle injury.

So if these top players can fall victim, how do we limit the chances of such an injury at grassroots?

When a team-mate has a damaged muscle, you might hear them refer to it as ripped, snapped, ruptured or even the Sunday morning classic, 'I've done me hamstring.'

What they mean is that there has been either enough force or too much stretch placed on a muscle to cause it to tear. Essentially they all mean the same.

One or two of the fibres that make up the muscle have been damaged causing the pain. In football, most hamstrings tear when you're sprinting or kicking the ball too hard, calf muscles tear when you jump and land, groins rip when you stretch for that stray pass and quad muscles often pull when you kick a static ball too hard or too fast.

These things are what you're likely to be aware of and most likely how you will describe the injury. But the real cause of the problem can often happen minutes, hours and even years before the pain.

The big cause of muscle strains in the 30+ age group is a loss of muscle flexibility. It's almost impossible to stop.

You can slow it, but never stop it, as it's a natural process happening every day.

It's a real problem for muscles that you are trying to use in dynamic sports like football. It's not so bad in running or cycling and while you will regularly read in this column about the benefits of pilates and yoga, both of which are designed to limit the effect of the daily ageing problem.

Not warming up properly is a huge problem for Sunday morning footballers.

How many times do you see a player lace up his boots, run straight out of the changing room and boot the ball to the side of the pitch he plans to warm up on and then sprint to fetch his ball?

Two things are wrong here. First you should never be kicking balls until at least ten minutes into your warm up. Second you should never sprint until at least ten minutes into your warm up. It will take at least seven minutes to warm your muscles up sufficiently to have them ready.

Even the food that you eat in the 48 hours prior to your game can affect muscle tears.

Your muscles need energy. Without energy from pasta, chicken and jacket potatoes, muscles can't contract properly. Effectively they are missing fuel.

Without this they become tired and when they're tired, such as during the last twenty minutes of your match, your muscle will tear.

So what do you do when the muscle tears?

The important thing is to resist the temptation to do nothing. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that tomorrow will be the day that the pain just goes.

I see so many patients that have had a muscle problem, which by the time they get to me is now more than three-months-old. When I ask them why they have waited so long they usually tell me that they just hoped that it would go away.

For some reason a theory still exists that a good night's sleep has the ability to cure all.

In some cases this is true, but rarely with muscle injuries. Be sure to use your ice and compression immediately and other than the first three or four days try not to let the muscle stiffen up.

You need a few days to allow the muscle to repair, but after that you should seek advice and work out how you can move the muscle safely.

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