“Prehab” or “prehabilitation” refers to any rehab-like exercises completed pre-injury, or before an injury occurs. Prehab can be the key to keeping you healthy and reducing your risk of injury.
What Is Prehab?
A play on the word rehab, “prehab” takes place before any injury occurs – it refers to taking preventative measures to reduce your chance of injury. Prehab exercises generally target smaller, more specific movements and muscles. These may get neglected in a normal gym or sports programme.
Some of the most common injuries or pains that active people in Ireland experience occur in the shoulders, knees, hamstrings, and ankles [1-3]. Prehab is useful for a number of activities. Sports such as soccer, running, Gaelic football, hurling, camogie, rugby, weight lifting, or swimming can all benefit from prehab. Muscle strains and ligament sprains are some of the most common injures in GAA and rugby for both men and women [1-4]. Prehab targets specific things that put you at risk for injury – for example, weak hamstrings, poor mobility, or poor control in stabilising muscles.
Why Is Prehab Important?
Reducing your risk of injury is very important for two reasons: time and money! Prevention is cheaper than treatment – a few preventative sessions cost much less than GP consults, physiotherapy and possibly surgery for an injury. Prehab can reduce your risk of major injuries and help niggles and “knocks” throughout a season. Less time spent injured means more time spent doing the things you enjoy! Taking time now to do preventative exercises can save time rehabbing in the future. Prehab will help prepare your body for the physical demands of your favourite sport or activity.
How Can Prehab Reduce My Risk Of Injury?
Targeting all muscles and movements in the body, not just the big ones, is key to good prehab. Research shows that strength training has a protective effect against soft tissue (aka your muscles, ligaments and tendons) injury. Strength training can cut overuse injuries in half and reduce once-off sports injuries to less than 1/3 . Some specific exercises have been shown to be very beneficial.
Adding Nordic hamstring exercises to training has reduced the risk of hamstring strains and tears in male soccer players by up to 51% [6-8]. Research has also shown the benefits of Nordics in male rugby players and female soccer players . Strong hamstrings can reduce your risk pulling a hamstring, and other injuries such as knee pain or injuries.
Training your smaller muscles is just as important as training your larger muscles. For example, your rotator cuff is a set of four small muscles that help stabilise the shoulder. Targeting just your rotator cuff with exercises will help strengthen it. This is especially important if you do an activity with a lot of overhead movement (e.g. swimming, tennis, basketball, badminton, weight lifting) or are looking to strengthen your bigger muscles like your shoulders, biceps and triceps.
Balance and jumping exercises can also reduce your risk of ligament sprains or tears. These types of prevention programmes can reduce the risk of ACL injury and your risk of ankle sprains by 20 to 60% [10, 11].
So, What Should I Be Doing?
Exercises that target smaller, stabilizing muscles such as your rotator cuff and exercises that have been shown to reduce your risk of injury are the best place to start. Here are some sample prehab exercises to start adding to your gym routine.
Shoulder: IYTW warm up
Rotator cuff: Banded exercises
ACL: Practicing jumping and landing on both one and two legs
Hamstrings: Nordic hamstring exercises
See A Physiotherapist!
Prehab is the secret to staying injury free. General prehab exercises should be added to your training routine, but sport-specific exercises can be even more beneficial. A chartered physiotherapist can assess and prescribe the best thing for you to be doing – that fits your body and your activity.