“Weekend warriors,” who spend the week behind a desk and then train or play hard on the weekends, are at particular risk for sports injuries. Other high-risk groups include athletes who over-train and kids who are trying to adapt to growing and changing bodies, but anyone who plays sports could eventually develop an injury. Each sport has its own unique injury risks, but across all sports, there are seven very common injuries. Here is what you need to know.
The Most Common Sports Injuries
Ankle sprain: When your foot suddenly turns inward, it can stretch or tear the relatively weak ligaments on the outside of your ankle.
Groin pull: Pushing off in a sideways motion, as in football, soccer, hockey, or baseball can strain the groin muscles of the inner thigh.
Hamstring strain: The hamstring is composed of three muscles along the back of the thigh. Movements such as hurdling, as well as falling forward, can strain these muscles.
Shin splints: This pain down the shins is most often caused by strenuous running programs and running on hard surfaces.
ACL tear: The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) connects the knee to the leg. Being hit from the side or sudden sideways movements can strain or tear the ACL. This is a potentially serious injury that always requires medical intervention to heal properly.
Patellofemoral syndrome: This is a repetitive motion injury caused by the rubbing of the kneecap against the femur in sports such as basketball, volleyball, and running. It can affect one or both knees at the same time.
Tennis elbow: This a repetitive motion injury caused by irritation or tears in the tendons of the elbow, most often brought on by sports such as tennis or golf. It is most commonly seen in adults aged 30 to 60.
It is impossible to prevent all sports injuries, but following proper preventative measures can dramatically lower your risk. Work out every day rather than just on the weekends, but avoid over-training. Ask a coach, trainer, physical therapist, or sports medicine doctor to help you develop a training regimen that includes appropriate rest breaks.
Start and end every workout with a gentle stretching routine. This helps increase blood flow to your muscles and improves flexibility. It also has cardio benefits, as you will more gently raise your heart rate and then allow it to gradually return to normal.
Pay attention to your body and use common sense. If you haven’t played a specific sport in a while, take a few weeks to build up the relevant muscle groups before playing full out. Stop when you are fatigued and allow your body to recover. If you are dedicated to one or two sports, make sure to cross-train. Otherwise, you are at risk of unevenly building your muscles, putting yourself at risk for injuring the weaker muscle groups.
Unless something is obviously broken, dislocated, or torn, it is generally safe to start with home treatment, following the PRICE method:
Protect yourself from further injury
Rest the affected area
Ice the injury for 20 minutes of every hour for the first 48 hours
Compress the area with an elastic bandage
Elevate the injury above the heart
Following these steps will help to reduce swelling and pain, and promote healing. However, note that these principles are designed to be used for a few days, not long term. Most physical therapists now recommend beginning light, careful movement soon after an injury to prevent the area from locking up or atrophying. Unless you are medically unable to do so, take ibuprofen or another over the counter NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) as directed to control pain.
See a doctor if you have signs of deformity, an inability to move or bear weight on the limb, significant swelling, or changes in color beyond light bruising. If there is no improvement after two or three days of PRICE treatment, you will likely need medical intervention.
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