15. 09. 2017

How to prevent injury? Part 1 (ROM)

The answer of this simple question is fundamental to every athlete, coach and fitness trainer alike. It mostly lies in the sport’s specific needs or the athlete/trainee’s goals. However, there are several essential needs common to anyone who wants to improve sport or fitness performance and stay away from injury:

  • Suitable training intensity (how hard and how much),
  • Appropriate resting periods,
  • Adequate nutrition,
  • Body and movement alignments and mechanics (closely related to ROM) and
  • Specific Range Of Motion (ROM)

On this article I will focus only on Range Of Motion (ROM), which I find the most misunderstood and neglected fitness component, however extremely important.

What Is ROM?

Range of Motion or ROM is defined as the normal degrees of motion for a particular joint.  The question, in practical terms is: does the joint move the way it was designed to? 

A joint like the shoulder is complex, and moves in every movement plane; the elbow is simpler: it either bends and straightens the way it is supposed to or it doesn't. 

There are two kinds of range of motion for every joint: passive and active. Passive range of motion is how far a joint moves without muscular force. The value is generally greater than active range of motion, which measures how much a joint can move without bending it using a strap, straightening with the hands, pushing against the wall, etc.

Factors Limiting ROM 

Range of motion can be limited by a number of things, including:

  • Swelling
  • Scar tissue
  • Weak muscles
  • Tight tendons/ligaments
  • Torn tissue (causes block in joint)
  • Bony abnormality

Importance of ROM

Range of motion is critical while fitness training or practicing a sport to obtain top performance and to minimizing the risk for injury. If a joint is unable to move properly, secondary to tightness, swelling, or weakness in the muscles, it is exposed to increased risk of injury. 

For example, your may have a knee lacking five degrees of extension, meaning the knee cannot fully straighten. You might think five degrees is a relatively small number, but it is actually a big deal. A knee that does not fully straighten exposes certain parts inside the knee structure to wearing out faster and creates a relatively short leg, setting the athlete up for future injuries, not just to the knee but the hip, ankle, and back as well.  In addition, that decreased range of motion will shorten an athlete's stride while running, create imbalance from side to side, and lead to weakness in the quadriceps muscles, negatively impacting performance.

ROM Specificity

Different exercises and also different sports require a specific functional ROM degree.

For example a split squat requires less functional range of motion from your legs flexors than a Bulgarian split squat (split squat with back foot elevated as shown on beside picture).

We also can state than a football player generally requires less flexibility than a gymnast. Hence, the specific flexibility or ROM goals, needs and thereafter training for these two sports are completely different.

The Bottom Line

Generally there are not bad or good exercises. Yet there are exercises you own or you do not, depending on whether you have the right ROM and strength to perform them. Also, there are movements and exercises you need to practice for your specific sport/s or personal goals and needs. For example, if your goal is to become a profession dancer your training will focus a great deal in ROM capacity, while if you are training for general fitness and wellbeing you will need to master the functional ROM of the movements your perform daily.

Fully functioning joints equal better able athletes to perform at their best and with fewer injury problems down the road. Joints that are restricted from full functional range of motion must be addressed.

Tomás Agustin Würst, Fitness Trainer, Yoga Teacher and Manager Director at Workout Australia. Have a question? info@wokoutaustralia.com.au

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