If you’re keen on winter sports, you may have experienced the struggle of getting back into training after some time off. Your muscles and joints might feel stiff and tight, or you may have some niggling pain start to pop up, which can lead to injury early in the season. This insight will explain why injuries happen at the start of the season, and what you can do to stay injury free!


Why do injuries happen at the start of the season?


There are lots of different causes of sporting related injuries, some are simply random such as training accidents or collisions, but others are more predictable. These types of injuries can usually be summed up but the saying, “doing too much, too soon”. Here’s a clinical example:


Case study – Tom

Tom is a 34-year-old accountant. During the off-season, he’s spent most of his time behind his desk, so he’s done very little physical activity since last season. The first training session of the year comes around, and he eagerly jumps straight on the field (no warm-up of course). Twenty minutes go by and he’s already exhausted. He’d been feeling some tightness in his hamstrings prior to starting but decided to push through. While going for a tackle, he feels a sharp pain in his hamstring. This is Tom’s ‘bad hamstring’ because he injures it every season.


What does the research say?


There are several factors that have been shown to increase your likelihood of injury leading up to the start of season. The main factors involved that we will discuss are:

  1. Training volume – This refers to how much and how intense you’re training. In field sports like football, large increases in training volume in pre-season is strongly associated with increases in injury (1).
  2. Previous injuries – Football players are 3x more likely to their hamstring, groin or knee if they sustained an injury in the previous season (2).
  3. Muscular imbalance – Asymmetry in muscular strength from one side of the body to the other can be a cause of injury (3).

Looking at Tom’s case, he started the training at way too high of an intensity, and he’s already had previous hamstring injuries which has left him more suspectable. Another important factor is the “tightness” that he was feeling prior to hurting himself. We call this a niggle, where you feel a sensation like muscle tightness or pain but it doesn’t stop you from training. Small niggles like these are known to increase soccer players risk of injury during the season (4).

How to prepare for the season and avoid injuries


The best approach to managing winter sports injuries to try prevent them from happening in the first place. Here are our top preventative tips:


Progressive loading

This is all about finding the sweet spot between ‘not enough’, and ‘too much’ training. The goal is to slowly build back into the training load, avoiding large spikes in how much you’re doing. In the lead up to the season, aim to increase your total amount of exercise, depending on how much you’re currently doing.

A great way to conceptualise this is using the ‘floor to ceiling’ concept (5) shown in figure 1. the floor represents your current training capacity, the ceiling represents the capacity required to compete in season. The bigger the difference between these two, the longer it will take to get there safely. This means the fitter you are in the pre-season, the less time it will take you to prepare.


Figure 1. Floor to ceiling concept

Optimal recovery


It’s also important to think of what you’re doing off the field, and how it can impact your risk of injury. This can include:

  • adequate warm up and cool downs before/after training sessions
  • Doing mobility and flexibility exercises
  • Getting an adequate amount of sleep
  • Eating a well-balanced diet


For more detailed tips check out our insight on sleep and nutrition here.


Proactive care


It can be normal for little aches and pains to pop up early in the season. But it’s important to address them before they turn into injuries that leave you sitting on the bench. One of the best ways keep you moving pain free and on the field is proactive care. This approach focuses on addressing issues that may be limiting your performance. For example, muscle strength, flexibility, balance/coordination, and endurance are all qualities than can be improved. To learn more about our proactive approach, check out our insight here.

If you’re getting back into training and you unsure on how to approach it, get in touch with the team at DMC Health today.


About the authors


David-ChiroDavid McNaughton is a clinician, researcher and lecturer. He is the director and principal chiropractor at DMC Health & Wellness. He has an extensive background in the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. In addition to his clinical studies, David holds a Master’s of Research and PhD in Psychology. He regularly publishes his research in peer reviewed medical and psychology journals. David has taught both undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Chiropractic and Psychology.




Isaac Searant completed a Bachelor of Chiropractic Science, Master of Chiropractic and Master of Research at Macquarie University. His research aims integrate chiropractic and physiotherapy into general practice for the effective management of low back pain. His clinical interests include spinal pain (neck and back) and sporting injuries. Regardless of the condition, his goal as a chiropractor is to work collaboratively with patients.




  1. Gabbett TJ. The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder?. British journal of sports medicine. 2016 Mar 1;50(5):273-80.
  2. Hägglund M, Waldén M, Ekstrand J. Previous injury as a risk factor for injury in elite football: a prospective study over two consecutive seasons. British journal of sports medicine. 2006 Sep 1;40(9):767-72.
  3. Ryan J, DeBurca N, Mc Creesh K. Risk factors for groin/hip injuries in field-based sports: a systematic review. British journal of sports medicine. 2014 Jul 1;48(14):1089-96.
  4. Whalan M, Lovell R, Sampson JA. Do Niggles Matter?-Increased injury risk following physical complaints in football (soccer). Science and Medicine in Football. 2020 Jul 2;4(3):216-24.
  5. Gabbett TJ. How much? How fast? How soon? Three simple concepts for progressing training loads to minimize injury risk and enhance performance. Journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy. 2020 Oct;50(10):570-3.

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