Are you injury-prone?

Some people seem to get hurt–a lot. Why? In general, these people blame their injuries on being clumsy, rushing, not paying attention, or just bad luck. As an example, I recently received this email from a client: “Last weekend I fell on my left hip on Saturday while weeding and then sprained my right ankle the next day on a walk.” So, is this person injury-prone? I don’t think so. Instead, I believe the fall on Saturday set her up for the ankle injury on Sunday. Read on for my explanation.

Causes of Athletic Injury

According to an article by STACK, which includes several well-known industry experts in the field of sports performance and conditioning, sports injuries are due to three causes:

  1. Load–the level of effort. In other words, how hard or fast you are performing.
  2. Structural–the anatomy you are born with or that develops over time.
  3. Biomechanical–how you move.

A NewScientist article highlights research that showed something similar: athletes who relied on a fixed pattern of movements had more injuries. The article notes that mathematicians Rudi Penne of the Karel de Grote School in Antwerp, Belgium and Henri Laurie of the University of Cape Town in South Africa used projective geometry to study cricket bowlers’ actions.

While delivering a cricket ball, bowlers who were unable to make small modifications in their movements, called “reduced redundancy,” suffered higher levels of micro-tears and fractures than those who made minor changes in their movements. Actually, these seemingly minor injuries often lead to more serious injuries. In essence, if a bowler keeps delivering the ball without adjusting their movement, they were more likely to be injured.

Sports-injury genetics is a similar area of study. An article in the Atlantic documents researchers who looked at variations in athletes’ genes. These researchers focused on collagen production and bone-mineral density. The study concluded that specific variations of the collagen gene, COL1A1, increased the risk of soft tissue injuries. They specifically found three injuries: Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tears, Achilles-tendon ruptures, and shoulder dislocations. Additionally, they found that a specific gene combination increased the risk of stress fractures four-fold.

Injury-Prone Movements

Basically, the above studies mentioned movements as causing issues. As a result, I’ve concluded two things:

How we move is what makes us injury-prone. And, how we move is dependent on our structure.

Recall that the studies also mentioned structure as a factor in injuries. The interdependence between movement and structure are shown in the hierarchy of my Sports Training Pyramid. Movement–the second level of the pyramid–is directly impacted by structure/alignment, at the base of the pyramid. For more information on this model, please read my blog,  Alignment is the Foundation of Strength and Athletics.

How a Fall Sets You Up for Another Injury

Let’s go back to my client example from the beginning of this blog. On Saturday, she fell on her left hip. What happens when we fall? A fall is a trauma to the body. To protect itself, the body contracts and goes into a protective posture. Generally, the soft tissues around the area of impact, in this case the left hip, shorten and tighten to restrict movement at the joint to prevent injury.

Now, let’s consider where this trauma happened in the body: at the hip, which in the diagram to the right is shown as the femur head (ball). The hip is at the top of the thigh bone (femur) and sits in the acetabulum of the pelvis. Therefore, when you fall on your hip, the muscles around the femur and pelvis are affected.

As I wrote about in my book, Winning the Injury Game, the pelvis is the second brain of the body. It gains this distinction because of the vital roles it plays in moving the lower body and in supporting the upper body. It is also part of the core. Read Defining the Core to learn more.

Because of her fall and the location of the fall, the muscles around the hip and pelvis became compromised. As you might recall from my previous blogs, a short and tight muscle is not a strong or efficient muscle! This leads to compensatory patterns of movement.

In addition, the position of her pelvis, femur and entire leg down to her foot and ankle–her structure–may have become misaligned from the impact. So, the next day, because she didn’t realize the extent of the changes that had happened in her body, my client went for a walk with her structure askew and walking gait altered. As a result, she became injured.

Reset after a Fall to Prevent More Pain

After an impact to the body, especially around the hip and pelvis, you are vulnerable. You are at a higher risk for injury. This is one of the most important times to practice your self-care and body alignment exercises. I have learned this the hard way!

My past mistakes and back-to-back injuries led me to think I was injury-prone. However, I now following these steps after a fall. I recommend that you do them, too:

  1. First, stop the activity as soon as it’s reasonable.
  2. Then, relax and loosen the tissue. You may do this with a hot bath, professional body work, self-myofascial release (foam roller or balls), or another form of tissue relaxation.
  3. Next, lengthen the shortened soft tissues with stretching.
  4. After you’ve stretched, reposition the body with posture exercises to bring it back to neutral.
  5. And now, go play!

In a nutshell, my client is not injury-prone. Actually, she is now improving her structure and movements though regular posture exercises. The problem was that her fall created undetected changes in her structure and movements. As a result, her walking mechanics were compensated, and she sprained her ankle. Note, too, that it was the right ankle she injured, the opposite side of her fall. This is common! When we are in pain, we want to avoid using the recently injured side, so we transfer more weight and stress to the opposite side.

So, I ask you again: Are you injury-prone? Or are you just out of alignment with compensated movements?


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About the Author


Jessica uses an integrative approach to help you overcome chronic pain. She believes in treating the whole person utilizing the biopsychosocial approach to healing. Her offerings include posture therapy, online exercise classes, pain science education, and individual or group wellness coaching. She is certified by the Postural Restoration Institute® (PRI), Egoscue University®, National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Council on Exercise (ACE) and Wellcoaches.