USA TODAY High School Sports and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have partnered on a monthly column to address injuries, prevention and related issues to help schools, coaches and student-athletes. Here is the latest column from Scott Sailor, the president of NATA.
Athletes engage mentally and physically in their training and practice so that they will be the most competitive during games. Practicing a skill over time builds muscle memory so that athletes do not have to think about doing a task; their bodies just do it.
It is important that skills are done correctly and that the athletes use proper form so the movement becomes part of muscle memory and reduces risk of injury. Remember that muscles work best when they are not over-stretched or shortened.
Activities at home or outside of a sport during downtime can also affect muscles and the muscle memory of a skill. For example, sitting in front of a computer with shoulders slumped can cause strain on muscles. Similarly, playing video games using that posture can lead to the same results. Shortened muscles can become tight so proper posture can help to stretch those muscles. On the other hand, lengthened, or over-stretched muscles can become weak. Finding the proper muscle balance is the key to success.
Another increasing concern caused by downtime activities is trigger thumb. When individuals text frequently using their thumbs, the thumb joints are kept in a flexed posture and can lead to overuse or inflammation. Additionally, the thumbs may lock and become painful. Hand function can be limited, affecting athletes involved in sports that require gripping such as crew, lacrosse and tennis.
As previously mentioned, here are some of the more common non-sport causes of muscle imbalance that interfere with optimal athletic performance:
- Slumped posture (e.g., working on a laptop while sitting on the floor)
- Excessive gaming
- Excessive texting
- Texting using only thumbs
It is also important to keep in mind that If athletes spend more time gaming and on their laptops than they do at practice, poor posture and muscle imbalances will be reinforced and repeated.
Here are several imbalance prevention tips:
- Maintain good posture, especially during “downtime”; sit with your back supported with an upright posture
- Limit texting, and use a swipe feature or multiple fingers (not just your thumbs)
- Limit gaming time to 20 minutes per sitting
- Maintain good balance between flexibility and strength of your trunk and upper extremity
Almost all sports involve the upper extremity. Even running speed is enhanced by optimal shoulder function, and all athletes use their hands during their normal day. Paying attention to a few activities performed during downtime can affect athletic performance. For best advice on proper form, consult with an athletic trainer or other member of the school’s sports medicine team.
Visit atyourownrisk.org for additional sports safety tips for athletes and parents.