The term “load management” has moved beyond clinical discussions between health care professionals to now regularly being talked about in circles of sports fans wondering why their favorite NBA players are sitting out of games? But what is load management? Is this a complex medical term, or simply a slang way of saying a player needs a break from the action? And is load management a concern unique to elite-level athletes, or should all athletes pay close attention?
Examining “load management”
The IOC Consensus defines load management as “the sport and non-sport burden (single or multiple physiological, psychological or mechanical stressors) as a stimulus that is applied to a human biological system (including subcellular elements, a single cell, tissues, one or multiple organ systems, or the individual).” This definition sure sounds fancy and complex, but what does it really mean? One 2016 study takes a deep dive into load management, but the findings seem to be both expected and simple:
There is moderate evidence indicating a dose-response relationship between the amount of training and competition loading that an athlete undertakes and the incidence of injury, illness and soreness. Training loads can either be positive (increased or decreased load reduces the chance of injury/illness) or negative (increased risk of injury/illness with increases or decreases in training load), or a combination of these depending on the method of quantiﬁcation. It appears this is also dependent on whether this training load is viewed as absolute or relative to an athlete’s recent training history.
Probably the most important conclusion, it appears, is that there is increasingly more evidence supporting correlations between the amount of training an athlete experiences as it relates to the athlete’s susceptibility to “injury, illness, and soreness.” All this adds up to what you probably expected all along: If you are rehabilitating an injury, how you rehabilitate makes all the difference.
Sports medicine has never been better than it is today, and the professionals working in sport science fields should be commended for their great work. Many injuries that only a generation ago were assumed to be career-ending are now commonly treated, repaired, and in some cases allow the athlete to perform even better than before. In addition to new technologies and surgical procedures that have helped athletes, we might also safely assume that getting enough adequate rest (i.e. load management) is a big reason why athletes are spending less time on the disabled list and more time enjoying their sport.
I’m not sure the term “load management” is providing new information as it applies to helping athletes, but is is reminding us of the importance of getting proper rest and not pushing too hard during the rehabilitation process. The guess here is that you will continue to see load management be used as the reason why an athlete misses time on the field or court, and while this might only be a fancy term for getting rest, it is important that athletes realize just how important rest really is as it relates to their overall health, wellness, and sport success.