As we have seen your body is continually producing, replacing, and remodeling your bones. It is important to keep your bones in good condition both now and as you age. There are several things you can do to ensure you skeletal system remains healthy and robust.
A well-balanced diet is all that is normally required to ensure a healthy skeletal system. As a person reaches age forty it may be necessary to augment mineral intake, particularly calcium intake, to ensure the bones have sufficient minerals to support remodeling and bone development needs.
Vitamin D is required to ensure your digestive system absorbs calcium from your dietary intake. Without sufficient quantities of this vitamin in your diet you may begin to suffer a loss of bone mass. This can eventually lead to bone fractures. Vitamin D is found in dairy products, broccoli, and processed foods that are fortified with Vitamin D.
Exercise causes stress to bone tissues which spurs osteocytes to produce additional bone. Without the stress induced by exercise you may begin to suffer a slow and continuous loss of bone mass.
Bone stress is common in normal martial arts activities. Jumping, striking, blocking, being blocked, and using strong muscular movements all stress the bones in various ways that serve to spur the osteoblasts and osteocytes to produce new bone mass. You can see this taken to unusual lengths with people who continually punch into compact sand or metal beads to strengthen their hands. The continued shock and stress to the bones caused by these repetitive strikes causes the bones in this area of the body to produce abundant new bone tissue. As a result massive knuckles or other thick bone tissues form. This makes those bones more resistant to injury and more capable of cause impact injury to others.
As a person ages there is generally a decline in the amount of exercise and physical activity they undertake. In Tensoku Ryu we stress that continued moderate exercise, even for the elderly practitioner, is vital to continued overall health, and especially to skeletal health.
Injury prevention can be accomplished in part by both proper diet and appropriate exercise. This leads to improved skeletal health which reduces the likelihood of skeletal injuries.
But the martial arts are a contact sport and excessive stress on bones, ligaments, and tendons can be the result of some of this contact. You should be aware that direct striking contact to any bone can cause excessive stresses that result in a fracture. This means that you may suffer a fracture as the result of you being struck, or by you striking someone else.
Fractures can also occur if your long bones are subjected to the types of stress that result from various locks and throws. This is stress that is focused across a bone rather than along its length. Bones are generally less capable of handling stresses in this direction. You must be prepared at all times to tap out if a training partner is applying excessive pressure on your bones or joint tissues.
A common source of injuries to the wrist, shoulder, clavicle, and arm is an attempt to protect oneself during a fall. Trying to break a fall with your hands may lead to breaks, strains or sprains to any of the skeletal components from the fingers to the clavicle. Practice falling so that you will be able to use sound injury prevention skills as an almost instinctual method for dealing with falls.
Tendon injuries often happen when you stress the muscles that control a joint. An impact is also a common cause of tendon injuries. A tendon can be stretched or in extreme cases even torn or pulled away from its bone attachment. Tendon injuries are common in the fingers where a finger is bent in an unnatural direction causing the tendons in the finger to stretch or tear. Similar injuries are common in the elbow and knee as well. When kicking or striking you will want to avoid overcommitting your movements so that the tendons and ligaments near your joints are not subjected to excessive stresses.
Injuries can also be prevented by any of the following:
- Wearing your seatbelt. Protecting yourself by pressing your hands into a rapidly approaching dashboard is different from falling only in the increased forces involved. A seatbelt (and airbag) are the only ways in which severe skeletal injuries can be avoided in these circumstances.
- Undergo continual strength and balance training to reduce the possibilities of falling.
- Avoid footwear that can cause instability. High heels, slippery soles, open toes and the like can all be unstable under the wrong conditions. Wear appropriate footwear at all times.
- Be aware of obstacles that could cause you to fall or with which you might have a sudden impact (for example, if you run and hit an object with your arms as you go by).
- Being prudent in your use and practice of weapons. Under the right circumstances nearly any weapon can cause skeletal injuries. Naturally you will want to avoid striking yourself with a weapon, but you do not want to strike an innocent bystander you did not notice either. Be keenly aware of your surroundings when wielding a weapon.
- Wear appropriate sparring gear. The required sparring gear is intended to lessen the possibility that you will be injured. Skeletal injuries are some of the injuries that may be prevented through the proper use of protective sparring gear.
- Avoid doing “full force” training exercises. When you do something at full speed and with full intensity you are also doing it with minimal control. This is an accident waiting to happen.
- Follow proper etiquette. Etiquette rules are in place largely to reduce the risk of injuries in the Dojo. Following rules of etiquette will help prevent injuries.
- Try new skills slowly and carefully at first. Some injuries are regrettably caused by inexperienced practitioners doing something that they have not yet mastered at full intensity on some poor unfortunate acquaintance. You will also want to be vigilant in the event you are the poor unfortunate acquaintance. Don’t be afraid to tell someone to stop an activity if you feel they are being unsafe.
You will also want to use some of the above techniques to reduce the chance that you will injure a training partner. If you are practicing something that is relatively new to yourself or your training partner then slow down and be cautious until both of you feel comfortable. Then remain careful that you do not apply more force than is necessary to accomplish the skills you are practicing. There is seldom a need to do any training session with full force or to practice “real life conditions.” In real life you might break some bones. You and your training partner do not need that type of aggravation.