The cooler winter temperatures we enjoy in the UAE are a great incentive to head outside and get active, whether it’s rollerblading on the Abu Dhabi Corniche, a bike road along Palm Jumeirah Boardwalk or pounding the pavements as a Dubai Marathon participant.
It’s also the season of competition with the calendar brimming over with aquathlons, duathlons, triathlons, half marathons, marathons, cycling challenges and wadi races. But whether you are a newly enthused exerciser or seasoned athlete, injury is something we all face at one point.
The continued growth and appeal of endurance sports is a fact. Marathon running, which registered a 13.25% increase in participation between 2009-2014, led by female runners with 26.9% growth (according to research commissioned by runrepeat.com) is just one example. Triathlons, and the ultra-distance Ironman, are also hugely popular thanks to international media coverage and other high-profile events like the Reebok CrossFit Games.
A 2013 study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine on injury types among triathletes is still relevant today. Over-use injuries affecting the shoulder, lower back, thigh, knees and lower leg all made the list. Tracy Evarola, a physiotherapist from the Emirates Home Nursing specialist services team, agrees, and says that the most common exercise-related injuries or problems she sees in her clients include anterior and posterior cruciate ligament (knees), pulled muscles, strained back and plantar fasciitis (heel) as well post-operative sports injury recovery.
“Physiotherapy is important because it supports the healing process of these injuries through pain management, strengthening programmes, mobilisation exercises, and prevention of further damage to the affected parts,” she remarks.
For runners, Tracy stresses the importance of implementing a gradual training programme that will allow their body to develop strength and endurance, improve skill levels and confidence. “It’s also important to have rest days to give your body time to recover from intensive training and to prevent overuse and fatigue. And it’s always a must to start and end with flexibility exercises,” she adds.
The intense nature of the triathlon discipline also calls for physiotherapy, but at a much earlier stage. Tracy elaborates: “Injury is present in almost all body areas as a result of triathlon training. Physiotherapists play an essential role in preventing injuries during a triathlon training. We ensure that the athlete’s muscular, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems are capable to efficiently work in a given period of time required for all three disciplines. Specific exercises are given to develop muscle strength to provide control, stability and direction to each plane of motion and to prevent unwanted movement and injuries.
“Physiotherapists work with the athlete to help improve their endurance and reach to a point where they can exercise comfortably for the period of time required in the race. We also give stretching programmes to prevent or overcome the effects of muscle pain and tightness.”
The UAE, with its ambient winter season and incredibly hot summers also has an impact on our bodies when we train or when we are injured. “Heat and humidity affect people with pain as they have difficulty regulating their system with extreme changes of temperature and moisture in the air. The level of fluid that lines and lubricates the joint may undergo possible changes and this may somehow increase pain and inflammation,” explains Tracy
“Extreme hot weather has a number of effects on the body’s system, but people should also be aware of the symptoms in their own bodies as high heat and humidity also can exacerbate ozone levels, possibly causing additional distress and pain in those who have asthma, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis or chronic fatigue syndrome.”
Emirates Home Nursing’s physiotherapy team offers a broad range of treatments for sports injuries plus orthopaedic, neurological or respiratory conditions. Clients undergo a comprehensive assessment that allows the physiotherapist to design a personalised evidence-based treatment programme.
So, what are the best and worst sports to practice in terms of high risk of injury? Tracy recommends swimming as one of the safest sports to practice with a low risk of injury. “Competitive swimming does require the ability to swim a variety of strokes, which can lead to common shoulder injuries, but with coaching and use of the proper techniques, it’s a safe and rewarding sport,” she says.
Football is one of the UAE’s most beloved sports, but is one that comes with a higher risk of injury, as she explains: “The high speed and full contact nature of football means that players are seven times more likely to be injured during a game than a practice. Ligament sprains account for more than 30% of all injuries, with the lateral ligaments of the ankle and the knee’s medial collateral ligaments most commonly affected.”
Sport is accessible to most, if not all of us, so whether you’re keen to get the family involved with an evening walk, cycle or rollerblading session at TrainYAS or Train Dubai or thinking about signing up for your first 5km run, Tracy has a few expert physio tips to share.