5 essential tips to avoid injury and more time off

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Returning to netball after injury, kids or an extended break.

From the time I was 6 years old, I spent all day and night training, playing and sometimes sleeping with a netball in hand. My involvement in netball provided some of the best memories of my childhood. Unfortunately, netball also dealt me one of the biggest challenges of my teenage years. At the age of 17, I sustained an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture. This incident turned out to be the catalyst for my passion for Physiotherapy and specifically injury prevention! 

Whether you are returning from an injury, haven’t played since you had kids, or have just had some time away from the sport…Here are some top tips that are essential to follow to get you back to the sport you love without the price tag of a serious injury. 

Some of you may have seen me being super keen down at social Thursday night netball and absolutely loving it! However, it may have resulted in me not being able to walk for a week – gulp. I really need to practice what I preach and do somebody preparation before my knees apply for a divorce. 

Since I’ve already paid the price for doing too much too soon, I’ve pulled together some advice to help you (ahem…me) avoid this common mistake. 


Tip 1: A current Physio assessment or screening is worth its weight in gold

We all know before we sign up to a new gym or start any new exercise that the contract usually says “Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program” I think most people ignore this, but, it’s actually a very good piece of advice! You should check to make sure you are not putting your health at risk by beginning exercise your body is not capable of doing. 

A Physio can also assess you to identify any areas of weakness which you need to work on prior to beginning your chosen exercise eg you might be ok to run in a straight line, but struggle with the control to perform change of direction sports such as netball. If you are returning to sport after having a baby make sure you get the all clear from your Obstetrician and Women’s Health Physio for the good of your pelvic floor!


Tip 2: Familiarise yourself with the KNEE PROGRAM – it’s been shown many times over it works.

This program is specifically designed for netballers and is designed to reduce injuries and improve athletic performance. It can be and should be completed by each and every netballer – whether you are an 8 year old, an elite player, or a social weekend warrior. After a screening your Physio will be able to advise you on which exercises to start with and how to perform them properly. It is important that the program is performed 3 days per week and is performed with an emphasis on technique. The exercises should only take 10-12 minutes and should form part of your return to sport plan. The program ideally would be performed for 10 weeks prior to returning to netball for optimal results. Studies show similar programs in other sports (such as soccer) dramatically reduce injuries especially serious ones like ACL rupture which can be career ending.


Tip 3: Start slow or at least at your own pace

Consider your fitness level and weekly activity over the past 3 months. Just because you ran 40km a week prior to your sporting hiatus doesn’t mean that you can jump back into this level (trust me). After getting cleared from your Doctor and Physio, you could begin building up your aerobic fitness with a variety of exercises such as running, cycling, boxing and swimming. 

Don’t know where to start? No problem (I honestly hadn’t done any regular training for 18 months). You’ll need to set a starting point with the help of your Physio, this might not be a weekly mileage goal, but rather listening to your body and using rate of perceived exertion (RPE) for a set time period. Ask your Physio to recommend where you should start on the scale and, as you are able, increase the time spent running while decreasing the time spent walking. In general, the couch to 5km app provides a good structure for getting back to continuous running.


Tip 4: Be realistic – life often gets in the way

With work, kids, life in general, what can you commit to? How about trying to set aside 30 minutes a day for exercise, and also allowing yourself to miss a workout if you have to (not 7, just 1). I started with my KNEE program to warm up, a 4 minute walk followed by a 1 min run and repeat until the 30min mark. I now run continuously for 30min. I also need to consider exactly how often I might be able to fit in activity, realistically 3 times per week is all I can manage without bub in my care, however I can walk every day, as long as it’s not raining or 45 degrees (no these are not “excuses” these are realistic considerations for my baby and our health). They are also important bits of information for my Physio when planning my training (so they don’t give me a 6 day per week gym program that I cannot perform).


Tip 5: Be patient – Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Obviously, this is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do tip. At the end of the day you will get fitter, faster, burn more calories, and be happier if you avoid injury and stay on the court. Do they run classes in being patient? I need to sign up if they do. 


Written by Lauren Gradwell

SquareOne Titled Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist 

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