How Prehab Helps Athletes Prevent Sports Injuries

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Prehab is a personalized, continually evolving exercise program. It provides sports-specific, focused exercises and activities for an athlete's needs. The philosophy is simple: To prevent injuries

Because everyone is different, developing and executing an effective prehab program can be complex. Each person's prehab program needs to be progressive, and should be re-evaluated periodically so it can change with the athlete's needs. Also, the practice of prehab and its success relies greatly on the athlete's willingness and ability to commit to prevention.

The first step to designing a prehab program is for an athletic trainer, athletic therapist, sports therapist, or physical therapist with sports training to screen the athlete. The therapist should measure the athlete's active range of motion and strength, make biomechanical observations, and ask about medical history and present health status.

Who Should Prehab?

Athletes of all levels should include a prehab program in their training. The more advanced the athlete, the greater the need for a prehab program. As athletes mature within a sport, their bodies adapt to the physical demands of training. Too often, repetitive movements and the daily stresses of training cause negative effects within their bodies: tightness of muscle groups or imbalances of strength, coordination or muscle stabilization.

These imbalances occur naturally with activity and are reinforced with each workout. These imbalances are often the root of many training injuries and may predispose athletes to greater risk of injury during training and competition

Patients who already have an injury, or a condition such as arthritis, can also benefit from prehab. Research shows that participating in a prehab program to improve physical fitness prior to joint-replacement surgery can help patients recover more quickly. These prehab programs are tailored to the planned surgery and last six to eight weeks.

How to Prehab

Each prehab program is personalized, but in general, a prehab program should address total body balance and consider sports-specific needs and an athlete's weaknesses. The exercises should help balance range of motion, strength, coordination, and stabilization. Comparing left to right, front to back, upper to lower body is the basic premise. An activity in a prehab routine can be a subtle, focused exercise or a complex sequence of movements designed for dynamic stabilization or to improve an athlete's skill.

The majority of prehab programs should focus on core strength and coordination and stabilization of the hips, stomach, back and core. Core instability is common and is often due to the lack of a proper training program, as athletes and coaches focus on upper and lower body lifting or basic sprinting and lifting routines. This leaves the core without a direct focus or training routine.

A prehab program must be constantly updated to match the athlete's progress. Adding dimensions of skill, one-on-one competition, or scoring can stimulate an athlete's focus and improve the success of a program. Using tools from traditional sports and physical therapy programs, like foam rollers, balance boards, weights, and exercise balls can add options and variety.

When to Prehab

Prehab should start before any acute or chronic injury occurs. Unfortunately, it often takes an athlete many injuries to decide to initiate a prehab program. Depending on an athlete's training cycle, prehab can be done within a practice session or as an independent workout.

In any case, a prehab program should be a regular part of an athlete's training routine. A prehab session could be:

  • Three or four exercises in a warm up or cool down
  • A few exercises while resting or waiting a turn in practice
  • A detailed workout focusing on an athlete's weaknesses
  • A full workout for off days or active rest days
  • A mini workout for team travel and recovery days

A Word From Verywell

If you are an athlete, feeling challenged and motivated will be the difference between success and failure with a prehab program. Work with a trainer who knows your sport, understands your needs, and communicates well. These are the keys to a prehab program that works.

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