In the last few months we have had a number of discussions surrounding life stress and the impact that this has had on the development of injury. Now for many of you that worked through the periods of lockdown I am sure that you noticed a similar pattern. To me it was not obvious at first, but as time has gone on and life is starting to get busier again I am recognising the remnants of the noise that was driving so much of what we were seeing as injury development.
What am I talking about?
In the last few weeks in particular i have noticed that as life is starting to get busy again and the demands of work, school and social engagements is being imposed upon us once again, niggles and performance complaints are arising that don’t appear to be strictly related to training and competition loads. It is becoming very apparent that general life is influencing performance and injury patterns.
And this reminded me of an article by a great strength professional Bryan Mann. Published in the Journal of Strength of Conditioning in 2016, Bryann and the staff of a division 1 collegiate football team started to notice increased rates of injury development during particular periods of the year. I have heard interviews where Bryann explained that initially it was not obvious why every year at the same time they would get injuries. They would constantly monitor game and training loads and their were no obvious patterns when it came to the participation in sport. There just didn’t appear to be a clear link between the sport time, intensity and volume and why injuries were popping up at the same time each season.
It then dawned on the preparation team that these periods were associated with university deadlines, exams and overall academic stress. And whilst this link appeared reasonable they thought it was best to investigate a little deeper to get a stronger understanding. So they looked to monitor periods of high physical stress (high training/playing load periods), High academic stress (mid-semester and exam periods) and low academic stress (minimal academic requirement periods). And as you would can probably guess periods of high physical stress were the most common periods for the development of niggles or injury chains, but interestingly the odds of developing an injury during a period of high academic stress was close to twice that of low academic stress periods, irrespective of training loads at the time. And further to this when an analysis was completed on the regular players (those that got increased game time) the high physical stress periods had less of an effect, but the high academic stress periods continued to create increased risk of injury.
Basically it became clear to Dr Mann and his team that even in players that were well prepared (regular players), periods of high academic stress were risk periods for injury and performance issues. To me this highlights the importance of understanding the individual behind the injury. The conclusions that this has lead to include coaches and staff being increasingly aware of periods of high external stress (noise if you like) that may affect performance or injury and understanding that whilst the physical stress may not be higher than previously experienced, the ability of the athlete to deal with such stress is likely to be diminished through these periods.
It appears that the key to managing such life stress (academic or otherwise) is to monitor closely, be flexible with the approach and be willing to understand the strain that the noise can have on physical output and robustness. Clearly if such stressors are not confined to defined periods then strategies should be sought to modify and manage such stressors, but in the event that they are, patience and understanding is likely to help.