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The Importance of Safety Equipment in Sports and Exercise

Many physical activities such as walking, require little special equipment. For others, it is essential to have correct equipment to prevent injury. Equipment for an activity may range from general items of clothing to special protective suits or apparatus.

In every case it is essential to use the correct equipment and to make sure it is in good condition. For example, there is no point in wearing a helmet if it is so old that it will crack on impact if you fall. First we shall look at some common sporting injuries and then take a look at the equipment needed to help prevent them.

Causes of Sporting Injury

Injuries can be caused in many ways and occur for a variety of reasons. The two main categories of injuries are: Traumatic injuries and over-use injuries.

Traumatic injuries

These injuries occur suddenly and you can usually feel that something has gone wrong. There may be immediate signs of injury such as swelling, pain and bruising. The injury may be caused by external factors, such as a collision with another person, or by internal factors, such as a pulled muscle. Internal factors are not related to another person and may not have an obvious cause.

External causes

Depending on the nature of the activity there could he a variety of external causes of injury. Impact injuries occur as a result of a collision with another person or a piece of equipment. These are more likely to occur in sports than in outdoor activities, dance or swimming. All contact sports, such as rugby and football, involve impacts between players. This means that players have a greater chance of being injured in this way. In a sport such as boxing the main aim is to hurt your opponent, so the risk of an injury is very high. In these activities it is essential that players are physically fit enough for the competition. The contest should be between similar groups. For example a schoolboy rugby team should not be expected to play against a good adult club side, because the differences in physical size would make injuries to the schoolboys very likely.

Collisions with equipment may also result in injuries. This may happen when a player runs into a goal post, is hit by a hockey stick or injured by a football boot. Gymnasts may collide with equipment if they miss-time the execution of a move. Bruising and cuts are the most likely result of an impact, but more serious injuries such as dislocations, fractures and concussion may occur.


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Playing surfaces may cause injuries when a player falls on or slides across the surface. This can result in cuts and grazes from tarmac surfaces or friction burns from an artificial surface such as Astroturf. When playing on uneven surfaces such as a rough patch of grass, a player may twist an ankle by landing awkwardly. On some surfaces, such as Astroturf, ankle injuries occur when someone tries to stop suddenly and there is no slip in the surface. This means that the player’s foot does not slide, even slightly. Sometimes just a little amount of slide helps the player not to go over on an ankle.

Equipment – minor injuries may occur as a result of using a piece of equipment even though it is not faulty.  Blisters are common, particularly when you are using new shoes or a new racket, for example. Even if the equipment is not new, if it is used for a prolonged length of time an injury might occur.

Accidents – the main aim of any safety precautions is to reduce the likelihood of accidents. However, no matter how many precautions you take, accidents will still happen. Some activities carry higher risks of injury than others. In dancing or ice skating, there is always the risk of slipping or of one performer dropping the other. The person doing the lift needs to be strong enough to hold the other person. Such accidents may be rare, but preparation is still an important part of minimizing the risk.

Some activities tend to be more risky than others. Outdoor activities such as rock-climbing, canoeing and skiing have an element of risk involved, which is why they appeal to many people. They like the challenge of the activity and get a great deal of satisfaction from overcoming the elements. However, participants have to be aware of the risks and make a decision as to whether they wish to take the chance of having an accident. The more risks they take, the more serious the injury is likely to be if something goes wrong.

Internal causes

An injury may occur without prior warning during any physical activity, and it may be difficult to know what caused it. The most common type of injury is a sprain or strain. The injury may be due to over-stretching or twisting in an awkward way. A lot of back injuries occur when people try to lift an object the wrong way. Fatigue, illness, stiffness and pain are all warning signs that must be heeded. The chance of internal injuries occurring is greater when you are feeling like this.

Over-use injuries

These injuries build up gradually over time, and that may make them harder to diagnose. They are often a result of doing a certain activity or action over and over again. Some of these injuries could be avoided by structuring training programmes, competition schedules or activity sessions appropriately and by taking adequate rest between sessions. There are several common overuse injuries.

Tennis elbow is a common injury among tennis players but can occur as a result of other sports or even from everyday activities. It is a strain of a tendon on the outer side of the elbow and is usually due to over-working or straining the muscles of the forearm.


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Golfer’s elbow is a similar type of injury to tennis elbow but affects the tendon on the inside of the elbow.

Shin splints is a general term to describe pain in the front and side of the lower leg. It is often associated with running or walking long distances. Correct footwear may help avoid this injury.

Stress fractures occur as a result of an increase in the workload on a certain bone. Runners may suffer stress fractures in the leg if they do too much running or wear incorrect footwear. Stress fractures may also be caused by muscle or tendon injuries that pull at the bone and cause a fracture to occur.

It is important that any of these injuries is treated early, to prevent more serious damage. Continuing to do an activity when you know you have an injury will make the situation worse and may put you out of action for longer than necessary.

General Safety Equipment

Helmets

There are different types of helmet for different purposes. Players of American football wear helmets to protect their heads during collisions with other players. Cyclists and rock-climbers wear helmets to protect their heads in case of a fall, whereas canoeists wear them in case they capsize and bang their heads on rocks under the water. Amateur boxers and other martial artists where head guards to reduce damage to the brain.

Footwear

Correct footwear is important even for people who do not do much exercise. Shoes or boots need to fit well and provide some cushioning. Many people get blisters on their feet from footwear that does not fit properly. You need to select carefully the shoe that is appropriate for your activity rather than choosing a shoe because it looks good. Footwear that has been worn a lot will not offer the same protection or cushioning as it did when it was new. The amount of wear will depend on how much the footwear has been worn. Old, worn-out shoes need to be replaced.
Many sports require good ankle support to prevent twists and sprains.

Gum shields / mouth guards

These are mainly worn in sports such as hockey, rugby and boxing, where there is a risk of being hit on the mouth. It is important that the gum shield fits properly, so ideally you should consult your dentist.

Protective padding

In cricket, football, hockey and American football, players use various forms of padding to protect them from injury. Cricketers wear leg and arm pads, gloves, a helmet and a box guard to protect them when batting or wicket-keeping. Footballers and hockey players wear shin pads. Hockey goalkeepers also wear leg pads, body pads and helmets to protect them. It is important that the equipment is worn properly and kept in good condition for it to be effective.

Safety equipment


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People who take part in outdoor activities use extra safety equipment to protect them. Canoeists and sailors wear buoyancy aids or life jackets in case they fall into the water. Rock-climbers and mountaineers also wear harnesses with ropes attached for safety in case of a fall.

General equipment

Equipments such as rackets, hockey sticks and cricket bats need to be carefully maintained. Blisters and splinters can be avoided if the equipment is given proper care. Goal posts in rugby and fixed posts in netball need to be covered by protective padding in case a player collides with them.

Martial Arts Sparring and Protection Safety

Martial Arts has always been a high risk sport, not least because of the very nature of what it teaches, how to defend yourself through defensive and attacking techniques. In recent years, Martial Arts of all types and styles have grown in popularity, and with it a boom in organized Tournaments, ranging from semi or no contact ‘points’ competition, to full contact bouts.

As a result, the safety issue has also become much more important. The days of sparring without wearing some form of protection are long gone. Now, many competitors will have to kit themselves out from head to toe, not just to meet Tournament rules, but to abide by the Insurance Companies rules for Martial Arts sparring.

Head guards, hand protectors, shin and instep guards, forearm guards, body protectors, gum shields and, of course, groin protectors are very much the standard kit required if you are going to enter into Sparring competition.

Is all this necessary? Well, in the opinions of many great teachers, yes. Whilst teachings will demonstrate how to defend yourself, through proven defensive and attacking techniques, is it really the aim of a competition to inflict as much damage on your opponent, or even yourself?

We spoke with Steve Turner about the importance of the CE Mark. Steve is a 1st Dan Black-Belt in WTF Taekwondo, an assistant WTF Taekwondo instructor, and Managing Director of Black Eagle Martial Arts Equipment, one of the few UK manufacturers and distributors of martial arts equipment pro-actively pursuing CE marking on their sparring equipment.

“Products have developed significantly to provide the sort of protection necessary to allow competitors to ‘go for it’ whilst ensuring that injuries are minimized. In 1995, the UK signed up to the European Directive on Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), which clearly states that all intermediate PPE must be fully tested in accordance with British Standards (harmonized across Europe), and carry the CE mark of approval.

The CE mark ensures that all products are not only impact tested, but also tested for toxic or noxious chemicals. Unfortunately very few suppliers are taking this responsibility seriously at the moment and continue to sell sparring equipment that has not met this basic safety requirement.” Steve Turner, Black Eagle.

Why is this? Well, simply put, to have your products CE tested and certified does cost money, and many believe that this is not necessary, despite the fact that it is the law! So what are the Trading Standards doing about this? Well, very little is the answer, because it is such a difficult market to police given their resources. Therefore many suppliers can flout this Law without fear of any action against them.

Fortunately, many Insurance companies are now becoming aware of the apathy amongst suppliers, and are now insisting that all Clubs must use CE Approved equipment if their insurance is to remain valid. Of course, some have already adopted the attitude “It won’t happen to me”, unfortunately, one instructor has actually been sued and lost his house and business as a result of not complying with Insurance requirements and using non-CE approved gear. So ask yourself, is it really worth it?

Safety equipment is a vital part of fitness. Whether you are getting yourself fit by following a fitness plan, participating in sports, attending exercise classes or going to a gym, staying safe is vital. One injury can knock your fitness back by months. Many people gain weight while recovering from an injury, and for some people a bad injury while playing sports can end their career. For instructors and personal trainers, we have already touched on the risks – both your reputation and your business can be at risk if you fail to ensure the safety of your students.

Stay safe so that you can stay fit.

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  1 comment for “The Importance of Safety Equipment in Sports and Exercise

  1. Den Ford
    October 12, 2010 at 10:47 am

    I totally agree with the correct protection when doing any kind of sport, my son is a wicket keeper for a local cricket team and has to be very well protected, his team manager is very hot on all aspects of health and safety, they even had someone come in to give an awareness talk to the whole team at the start of the season

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