Participating in one or more sports is a vital part of a healthy, active lifestyle — good for the heart, good for the respiration, good for building and maintaining muscular strength. Sports injuries occur during exercise or while participating in a sport.
You’re at risk for sports injuries if you:
- Haven’t been regularly active
- Don’t warm up properly before exercise
- Play contact sports
Let’s look at eight common possible athletic-related injuries and possible prevention measures you can take.
Strains are by far the most common of all sports-related injuries simply because we use so many muscles and tendons when we exercise or play. These moving parts are all susceptible to stretching farther than they should, or moving in ways they shouldn’t move, leaving them torn, damaged and in pain. Common muscle strains include pulled hamstrings, pulled groin muscles and strained quads. Most strains are minor and heal naturally with rest.
Sprains are to ligaments what strains are to muscles. Ligaments are the tissues that connect bone to bone. When these ligaments turn in a wrong way, they can pull or tear. Ankle sprains are perhaps the most frequent type of sprain among athletes, followed closely by knee sprains, wrist and elbow sprains, etc. Sprains can be painful, take longer to heal than strains, and sometimes require immobilization to protect against further injury.
- Knee injuries
The knee is a very complicated joint, and it endures a lot of impact and wear during most sports activities. Tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are quite common, as are cartilage tears, dislocation and fractures. Knee injuries can be painful and debilitating, sometimes requiring surgery to correct.
Impact and contact sports often lead to fractures of the bone (mostly arms, legs and feet), all of which can be painful, take weeks of immobilization to heal and may sometimes require surgery to correct.
- Plantar fasciitis/shin splints
These are injuries of repetition because they are both related to overactivity of the feet and legs, combined with a lack of proper support. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of a tendon in the arch of the foot, causing sharp pain with every step. Shin splints describe an inflammation of the muscles in the lower leg caused by repeated stress and high impacts of running , quick stops and starts. Both are common with runners, joggers, soccer and basketball players.
- Back injuries/back pain
Your back and spinal column undergoes some level of stress with almost every sports activity. Over time, this stress may accumulate into inflammation around the vertebrae and back muscles, sometimes causing injuries to the discs and frequently causing upper or lower back pain. Sometimes a sudden jarring impact may also cause an acute injury to the back. Back treatments vary widely depending on the condition, ranging from rest to physical therapy to surgery.
Most common in contact sports like football, a concussion occurs when a sudden impact to the head causes the brain to lurch inside the skull, sometimes damaging the tissues holding it in place. Concussions may be mild to severe, with symptoms ranging from headache and dizziness to sleepiness and temporary loss of consciousness. Always seek a medical evaluation with any blow to the head, as sometimes more serious symptoms may occur after the fact. Never continue to play sports if symptoms of a concussion exist. Concussions usually heal naturally with rest within a week to several weeks.
Sports injuries treatment
The RICE method is a common treatment regimen for sports injuries. It stands for:
This treatment method is helpful for mild sports injuries. For best results, follow the RICE method within the first 24 to 36 hours after the injury. It can help reduce swelling and prevent additional pain and bruising in the early days after a sports injury.
Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to treat sports injuries. Most of them provide relief from pain and swelling.
If your sports injury looks or feels severe, make an appointment to see a doctor. Seek emergency care if the injured joint shows signs of:
- severe swelling and pain
- visible lumps, bumps, or other deformities
- popping or crunching sounds when you use the joint
- weakness or inability to put weight on the joint
Sports injuries prevention
The best way to prevent a sports injury is to warm up properly and stretch. Cold muscles are prone to overstretching and tears. Warm muscles are more flexible. They can absorb quick movements, bends, and jerks, making injury less likely.
Also take these steps to avoid sports injuries:
Use the proper technique
Learn the proper way to move during your sport or activity. Different types of exercise require different stances and postures. For example, in some sports, bending your knees at the right time can help avoid an injury to your spine or hips.
Have the proper equipment
Wear the right shoes. Make sure you have the proper athletic protection. Ill-fitting shoes or gear can increase your risk for injury.
Don’t overdo it
If you do get hurt, make sure you’re healed before you start the activity again. Don’t try to “work through” the pain. When you return after letting your body recover, you may need to ease yourself back into the exercise or sport rather than jumping back in at the same intensity.
Remember to cool down after your activity. Usually, this involves doing the same stretching and exercises involved in a warmup.
Resume activity slowly
Don’t be tempted to nurse your injury for too long. Excessive rest may delay healing. After the initial 48-hour period of RICE, you can start using heat to help relax tight muscles. Take things slowly, and ease back in to exercise or your sport of choice.
See a Doctor
See a Doctor if there are signs of swelling or if it hurts to place weight on the affected area.Contact a healthcare provider if you don’t see any improvement after 24 to 36 hours of RICE.
Because a child’s skeleton isn’t fully developed, the bones are weaker than an adult’s. Take extra precautions with a child’s sports injuries. What looks like a tissue injury may in fact be a more serious fracture.
Don’t ignore your symptoms. Remember, the earlier you get a diagnosis and treatment, the sooner you’ll recover and get back in the game.
Dr Daniela Dinu in a Medical Doctor in ExpressCare Minor Injuries and Illnesses Clinic in Northwood, Dublin