As the season approaches its final quarter an interesting thing will often happen in the professional game as the number of injuries reduces and the amount of players available for selection increases.
During my time as Darlington physio, I remember at this stage of the season it wouldn’t be uncommon for us to have a dozen or so players all declaring themselves fit and fighting for a place on the bench, let alone to get it in the starting eleven.
Contrast that with the Christmas period, when the changing room would be full of trainees on standby because the injury list was so long, and it would be the first time you could get a sense that the season was entering its final furlong.
Why? Well, it will be a running joke from now until the end of the season in the dressing rooms of clubs like Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, and even in the Premier League with Sunderland and Newcastle, that contracts are up for grabs.
At this time of the year, for some reason, injuries don’t seem quite as painful, don’t take quite as long to heal and players love to be out the training ground never missing a session.
Injuries will still happen, and players will still pick up knocks, like Hartlepool United regulars Antony Sweeney recently suffering a knee injury and Steve Howard just returning from a hamstring strain.
These type of things are inevitable and unavoidable and for players like those two, who are available week in and week out, ‘boucebackability’ is never in question.
But watch out as fringe players come forward and all of a sudden are available almost every week for the final months of the season. The incentive of a new contract for some seems to provide a greater healing power than any physio or doctor had been able offer in the early part of the season.
It’s a great time to be a physio in the professional game too, with the treatment room beginning to quieten down - it was the time of year I could even put the boots on myself and get involved with a game or two of five a side.
But contrast that with the grassroots level and its possible you’ll see the reverse in play.
Boggy pitches, routines changed, games postponed and midweek fixtures soon to be added to your schedule, means that at the amateur level the reverse is in play and the teams are stretched to the limit trying to cope with injuries and knocks.
It’s really important to be aware of the effect of things happening to you over the next few weeks.
Thanks to the snow and rain in the North-East this week boggy pitches are inevitable and they pitches make for tighter, tired muscles.
Don’t be surprised if your calf or Achilles muscles are little tighter after your game this weekend and take an extra day or so to come to life.
You should always be stretching before games, only when warm and always on the move, and it’s just as important to spend some time statically stretching immediately after.
That’s where you hold the muscle in place for at least 10-15 seconds and if you do this is going to greatly reduce the aches you’ll feel the next day.
The ice baths might not be a welcome option at this time of year but if your brave enough, its another tactic likely to reduce your chances of injury as you head into what is usually one of the busiest few months of the grassroots calendar.