With David Beckham injuring his Achilles tendon this week, I wanted to have a quick look at a topic that’s very close to my heart. Staying injury free.
As athletes approach their forties avoiding injuries becomes harder and harder, but it’s not impossible. Look at a player like Ryan Giggs. With a career that spans over 18 seasons, he’s got over 800 appearances for Manchester United under his belt. He’s the most decorated British footballer of his generation, with four FA Cup medals, 10 league titles and two Champions League medals. He holds the record for the most club appearances beating Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record of 758, and, equally remarkably, has never been shown the red card during his games for Manchester United. So what does Gigs attribute his longevity as a sports man too?
Yoga: “I’ve been doing it for five years,” he explained. “When I turned 30 I decided I had to make some sacrifices – diet, alcohol. Yoga has definitely helped with my hamstrings and also how I feel. I feel good after games, fresh during games. Consistently, over the season, I’ve probably got better the older I’ve got. Stretching to prevent knee and ligament damage is also crucial. The longest I have ever been out with an injury is eight weeks, when I broke a metatarsal bone in my foot.”
All top flight athletes look after themselves these days. The days of footballers celebrating a win with 8 pints of larger on a saturday night are long gone. Today it’s a quick ice bath then home to bed for an early night.
“A football player has to look after himself, keep an eye on the diet, train with lots of weights and concentrate on strengthening the muscles that are relevant to the game,” Giggs said in a recent interview in the Sunday Times.
Rugby teams and other sports use massage, stretching sessions, relaxation therapy, steam baths, yoga and swimming to help their players overcome stiffness, but the recovery method which has become the choice (and curse) of the players is the ice bath.
In simple terms, it’s about reducing inflammation and helping the muscles, tendons, bones, nerves and all the different tissues used in sport recover from their workout. When you get into an ice bath for five to ten minutes, the icy cold water causes your blood vessels to tighten and drains the blood out of your legs. After 10 minutes your legs feel cold and numb. Then when you get out of the bath, your legs fill up with ‘new’ blood that invigorates your muscles with oxygen to help the cells function better. At the same time, the new blood coming into your legs will have to leave as well, draining away and at the same time taking with it the lactic acid that has built up from training.