How to prevent sports injuries?

Sports injury: Random accident, or could your DNA be your early warning?

Written by: Jonine Möller, M.Sc. in Sport Science

The word “injury” is very disliked in the world of sports. Every serious athlete, even most amateurs, has suffered at least one injury. Depending on the competition level, the consequences of injuries can be career-ending. At the very least, they interfere with training programs and fitness progress. 

Strength and conditioning programs are integral to most athletes’ training programs. It is essential for performance, overall fitness, and preventing injuries. Strengthening programs in the gym are even a part of endurance athletes’ conditioning. 

However, even though athletes may all follow the same programs, some still suffer from more injuries than others. Why is this, and can anything be done about it? It largely depends on the type of injury.

Sports injuries can be classified into two main categories - acute and chronic. Acute injuries mainly occur due to sudden or extreme external forces acting on the body. These usually result from random accidents and include breaking bones or tearing ligaments. Muscle tears are also acute injuries in most cases.

Chronic injuries are also referred to as overuse injuries. These include tendinopathies and stress fractures. They typically occur when the demands on the body’s tissues exceed their capacity over an extended period. Muscle tears can result from chronic over-exertion. Many factors may contribute to these types of injuries. 

Training program errors, inadequate muscle strengthening, imbalanced biomechanics (ineffective movement patterns), and genetics are among the factors that contribute to the risk of chronic injuries. 

The genetics behind injuries has been broadly investigated. Many studies have examined genes that may be causally linked to particular injuries. However, the power of these single-gene studies is typically not high, and the causes of most injuries are too multifactorial to blame on single genes. 

Polygenic risk scoring has been able to link multiple genetic variants to overuse injuries such as tendinopathies and osteoarthritis.

Genes contribute to tissue properties, integrity, and strength of tendons, cartilage, and muscles. Genes can also play a role in anatomical differences between people that can influence biomechanics. Even some injury-predisposing behavioral attributes can sit in your DNA. 

Polygenic risk scores include all contributing genetic variants, whether they have physiological explanations or not. Consequently, gene-specific injury-preventative measures may not be possible; however, risk estimation is more accurate than looking at single genes. 

Injury rehabilitation specialists, such as biokineticists, are experts on injury risk factors. Knowing your risk for specific injuries allows you and your trainer or therapist to take the appropriate preventative steps in conditioning. 

For example, the training programs of athletes with an increased risk for tendinopathies should progress more slowly and invest extra time and effort in tendon-strengthening exercises that apply to the athlete’s sport. These athletes should also consider movement biomechanics and joint muscle strength balances. 

In conclusion, injuries may either occur due to freak accidents or overuse. In the case of overuse injuries, genetics may play a significant predisposing role. Knowing their genetic predisposition for specific injuries will help athletes focus and tailor their conditioning and training programs.


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