8 Tips for Staying Healthy as a Student-Athlete
Participating in sports has plenty of physical and emotional benefits, but there’s also an element of risk involved. It’s not uncommon for athletes at all levels to suffer sports-related injuries that keep them on the sidelines or worse.
Preventing such injuries is one of the primary goals of Pacific University’s 12-person sports medicine team — comprised of five athletic trainers, three physicians, two chiropractors, a physical therapist and an optometrist versed in sports vision.
As the 2017 fall sports season kicked into gear, we asked members of the team for their expert advice on what student-athletes, parents and community-based coaches can do to keep players healthy and minimize their chances of getting injured. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Don’t specialize too early.
Young athletes should try a wide variety of sports and exercises so that their bodies become better-conditioned to respond to stress, said Dr. Brian Bettencourt, head team physician and expert in sports medicine.
Focusing on a specific sport at a young age (under 16, for instance) can lead to overuse injuries and emotional burnout. Once kids quit a sport, they rarely return to it.
2. Get a comprehensive eye exam before participating.
Dr. Fraser Horn ’00, OD ’04, associate dean in Pacific’s College of Optometry, says vision care can prevent injury. An eye exam may reveal that an athlete needs corrective eyewear, such as contact lenses or prescription sports goggles. The clearer an athlete’s vision, the better he or she is able to analyze a situation and react quickly, possibly avoiding an injury-inducing hit or collision.
3. Use the right gear for your sport and ensure it fits properly and is in good condition.
Using the wrong equipment (or gear that’s worn out or fits poorly) is a major cause of injuries, added Horn, who is an expert in sports vision. For instance, always wear a helmet made specifically for the sport you’re playing.
In some cases, it’s a good idea to get professional help with selecting and fitting gear. Football players, for instance, should work with someone who is trained in fitting helmets and shoulder pads before practicing or playing.
Athletes participating in sports with a risk of eye injury, including contact sports, should wear protective eyewear and ensure that it meets the ASTM standard for their chosen sport. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) develops proprietary technical standards for many products, including protective eyewear for various sports. ASTM F803 is the standard for protective eyewear for many sports, including racket sports, women’s lacrosse, field hockey, baseball and basketball.
4. Be sure to warm up and do proper weight training and sports-specific exercises before practices and games.
Life is busy. Young athletes are often short on time and tempted to jump right into practices, games or exercise routines. But warming up and cooling down play a crucial role in preparing the body for activity and assisting its recovery, said Head Athletic Trainer Eric Pitkanen. Those routines not only reduce the chances of getting injured, but also enhance athletic performance
5. Develop core strength and flexibility.
Initial training for a sport should include core strengthening and stability exercises, said Chiropractic Sports Physician William Martindale. This isn’t about doing a lot of crunches to develop six-pack abs. It’s about doing exercises that strengthen all your core muscles — including the often-overlooked hip flexors, lumbar and thoracic spine muscles, deep- and rotational-core muscles, gluteus maximus, abductors and adductors. A strong and stable core can reduce your chances of getting injured as you prepare for the season.
Also, don’t forget that flexibility is a key component of physical fitness. Having loose, limber muscles can help you avoid muscle-strain injuries. To improve your flexibility and strengthen your core, incorporate both static and dynamic stretching into your training and give yoga or Pilates a try.
6. Hydrate and get plenty of rest.
Drink lots of fluids before, during and after games and watch for signs of heat-related illness — including fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion or fainting — especially during hot and humid days. Players should also take rest periods during practices and games, said Dr. Chris Nelson, a team physician with expertise in sports medicine.
Speaking of rest, athletes, like the rest of us, should get an adequate amount of sleep. Sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation, emotional regulation and growth and cell repair, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each need to function optimally. But younger adults need more, eight to 10 hours.
7. If you suspect that you (or one of your players) has a concussion, seek help right away.
Learn to recognize the signs of a concussion and seek help right away if you suspect that you, or someone you know, may have a concussion, which is a brain injury, Pitkanen added. Don’t try to “wait it out.”
Putting off proper care can result in prolonged symptoms or even second-impact syndrome — which has been described as a dangerous condition that occurs when the brain swells rapidly after a person suffers a second concussion before symptoms from an earlier one have subsided.
8. Take an “off-season.”
Many professional athletes take a season off to regroup and refresh both the body and mind, and so should young players, Nelson said. If you decide to train after your season is over, do so at a half the level of in-season intensity for a period of at least three months.
Learn how Pacific University supports student-athletes
Pacific University's athletic training team is using partnerships with volunteers and with students in the university's colleges of Health Professions and Optometry to provide first-rate care for student-athletes. Watch and read more about this great partnership!