Why Do Some Athletes Suffer Sports Injuries More Than Others?

There isn't a day in the clinic during which a physical therapist doesn't hear the question,  "Why am I injured?" Often, any response is followed by a patient stating, "I've been doing that for years."

Obviously, more explanation is needed. So how do sports injuries really occur? Put simply, three factors contribute to injuries, which, if accounted for, can reduce your chance of getting hurt.

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That said, everyone has a different pain threshold, and individual thresholds are variable, depending on mood, stress and sleep levels.

Pain Threshold

1. Structural Issues

Generally, structure is considered something you're born with, but you can also develop structural abnormalities throughout life. If you sustain a structural lesion or damage, depending on the extent, it can contribute to changing your biomechanics, or how you move, as well.

Surgery is often the most logical ways to fix structural problems. For example, an athlete suffering from a meniscus issue may not be able to change directions effectively on the field. But if he or she doesn't want to or cannot tolerate those restrictions—and is biomechanically sound and strong and wears appropriate footwear—the next modifiable step is improving the structural integrity of the joint.

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2. Biomechanical Issues

Biomechanics is the science of how we move. Working with athletes day to day, I am astounded by how poorly many of them move. Plenty of bad movement patterns fly under the radar, simply because the athletes haven't been injured yet.

I'm not surprised that such a large percentage of people in the general population develop arthritis through the lumbar spine, hips and/or knees in their later years. Why? Because of their terrible lower-back and pelvic stability and glute/core control throughout their younger years. At the time, their short-term load was not sufficient to present problems, because they remained under that pain threshold mentioned initially.

Biomechanics is where I feel I can have the most influence, especially since many people are unwilling to compromise with their load. Biomechanics play a huge role in how our bodies perform. Improving biomechanics may be as simple as increasing your running cadence to reduce ground reaction force, inevitably reducing bone and tendon stress.

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I often tell patients that "the body is the greatest cheater," because we love to be able to perform tasks, no matter what technique is involved, and we find the path of least resistance. This becomes more apparent as we demand more of our bodies. We try to avoid its weaknesses, and in less demanding environments we can do so with ease. But when further stress takes place, the body reverts to its most comfortable, poor movement patterns. Eventually, a line is crossed and and compounded with load, the structure becomes grumpy.

Don't feel like you're the only one moving poorly. I have seen terrible body mechanics even in elite athletes. Maybe this is why some are more "prone" to injury than others.

3. Load

Load is a crucial factor in many injuries, but it is difficult to quantify. Some people are poor structurally and move badly, but because they never do anything they won't experience pain. That's why those who do a lot, and can't compromise, must minimize the influence of the other two factors in building toward their threshold of injury.

Load can be thought of in terms of your level of competition. It might be faster and harder than your body was previously exposed to. Or maybe the terrain is more difficult.

Load is easy to change, and changing it can make a difference in the short term. Unfortunately, its the one thing we don't enjoy modifying. But wearable tech with mobile apps, and more specifically GPS technology in elite sport, will help us make huge advancements in injury prevention in the not-too-distant future.

Final Notes

When all is said and done, these three factors will determine whether you keep getting injured. Sometimes, there could be a freak accident or contact that causes an injury. But these factors are what will determine if your body breaks down over time, which happens all too much.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: INJURY PREVENTION | SPORTS | INJURY | MECHANICS | STRESS