How To Prevent and Treat Those Frustrating Sports Injuries

Yesterday, after a long day of treating patients I went out for an evening run, a 5 km jog around the neighbourhood that not only keeps me in shape but clears my mind. A block before turning into my street, the tip of my running shoe caught on a loose cobblestone and I was forced into an ungraceful commando roll on the sidewalk.

The cost of my stumble: a sprained ankle, a scraped and bloody right knee, a black-blue bruise on one of my elbows and a nasty headache.

After years of running, spills like these have now occurred two times too many.

Every time an athlete gears up and takes to the field, pitch, pool, pavilion, park, court or precinct, they are signing a contract with destiny, a liability waiver stating that they will not sue their deity of choice when something goes wrong.

There is always a level of risk, no matter what your preferred choice of the sport might be. Having looked after the Australian judo team for a number of years some it obvious that some sports are inherently more risky than others.

No matter what you do from a competitive or fitness perspective, there is a risk you will get hurt.

Injuries Will Happen

Sports are a fantastic thing. AFL, cricket, football/soccer, rugby union and league, martial arts, athletics, triathlon and many other sports promote health, fitness, competition, friendship, and courage. As before, each sport has its own level of risk.

In recent years, professional sport-related risks have made headlines. In 2016, the US Federal Appeals Court ruled in favour of the National Football League’s $765 million settlement – a ruling that covered over 20 thousand retired players.

In sports, an injury is not a question of if but when it will happen. Getting hurt is an eventuality you simply can’t always prevent.

You will be betrayed, by either your own body or by fate (a random injury caused by someone else, etc.).

Which Sports Generate The Most Injuries?

soccer

As if you need further proof, here’s a list of the top sports worldwide with professional and recorded injuries. I like to highlight those last two words, “professional” and “recorded” to emphasize the fact that these stats don’t take into account amateurs or those individuals who decided to self-treat and not report their accident.

  1. Golf: 33,101 injuries
  2. Martial Arts: 34,395 injuries
  3. Gymnastics: 36,001 injuries
  4. Cheerleading: 36,311 injuries
  5. Snowboarding: 38,630 injuries
  6. Wrestling: 42,633 injuries
  7. Volleyball: 50,845 injuries
  8. Horseback riding: 54,609 injuries
  9. Roller Skating: 57,743 injuries
  10. Fishing: 70,541 injuries
  11. Softball: 100,010 injuries
  12. Weightlifting: 110,188 injuries
  13. Skateboarding: 120,424 injuries
  14. Baseball: 143,784 injuries
  15. Swimming: 184,190 injuries
  16. Soccer: 229,088 injuries
  17. Exercise: 365,797 injuries
  18. Football: 420,582 injuries
  19. Bicycle Riding: 521,578 injuries
  20. Basketball: 533,509 injuries

Interesting fact that rollerskating has MORE injuries than wrestling! How is that possible? It would appear professional roller skaters are rather aggressive.


What Are The Most Common Sports Injuries?

Let’s talk anatomy. As weekend warriors, we are always in the thick of it – in the muck of our sweat, blood, and tears. We like to say things like:

  • “No pain, no gain!”
  • “Risk nothing, win nothing!”
  • “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”
  • “Ooh, that looks nasty!”

Still, there are certain variables that are unavoidable, injuries and calamities that come out of the blue that you simply can’t prevent.

Nonetheless, unless someone put a curse on you – lighting hits runner TWICE -, there are certain injuries related to sports that are foreseeable and to a large extent preventable.

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

This is a common injury that usually heals with early treatment. It is a pain focused on the outside your elbow, at the point where your forearm and your elbow meet. The repetitive motion of your arm can create small micro tears/degeneration in the tendons which attach the muscles to the bone. This can lead to inflammation and might, if not treated properly, become chronic. Tennis elbow affects up to 3% of the population.

Interestingly enough, although it is called “Tennis Elbow” less than 5% of those diagnosed with the condition play the sport. It’s seen in sports where gripping of racquets and bats and is also seen in the workplace with too much mouse use.  

Patellofemoral Syndrome

running

This is one of the most common of knee related injuries. The patellofemoral joint is the joint between the patella (kneecap) and the femur (thigh bone). This injury presents as a general pain or ache at the front of the knee/underneath the patella. Sometimes referred to as “runner’s knee”, this injury is most common in runners or people who play a sport which involves running.

The pain tends to increase when you run, walk up or down stairs, or sit for long periods at a time. Poor biomechanics (movement patterns) are generally the underlying cause, particularly poor pelvic/hip stability (read weak glutes and core) and foot over-pronation. Patellofemoral pain can also be seen when there is muscle imbalance, following injury or after knee surgery.

A thorough biomechanical assessment and subsequent stretching/strengthening programme are the best way to treat this ailment. Taping techniques can be utilised to improve mechanics at the patellofemoral joint, thereby decreasing the inflammation and pain and can allow an earlier return to activity.

ACL Tear/Rupture

Athletes who participate in high-intensity sports which involve a change of direction and contact (AFL, netball, basketball, soccer, rugby codes etc.) are susceptible to  Anterior Cruciate Ligaments (ACL) tears. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon knee injury and the rehabilitation is lengthy whether or not the rupture is repaired surgically.

A quick lesson on the structure of your knees: 3 bones meet (Femur-thighbone, Tibia-patella-shinbone, and kneecap), they are themselves connected to other bones by ligaments. These strong fleshy “ropes” act to hold your bones and keep your joints stable. If any of these ligaments are compromised (strained or ruptured) then you are in for a painful time.

There are 3 grades to evaluate a potential ACL injury:

Grade 1 Sprains: Mildly damaged. Rest and relaxation usually fix the problem.

Grade 2 Sprains: A partial tear. You’ll need physical therapy.

Grade 3 Sprains: Complete tear. You’ll need surgery.

Common causes of ACL tears are changing directions rapidly, stopping suddenly, landing incorrectly from a jump, and direct contact or collision with something or someone.

Shin Splints

basketball

This is a common injury that usually affects runners, football/soccer players, American football players, and basketball players. Dancers in general experience shin splints on a daily basis. They normally occur after a person either switches the surface they ordinarily practice their on or ramp up their intensity and energy.

It is one of the easiest injuries to treat, and  R.I.C.E  (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) normally does the trick. You can also take anti-inflammatory drugs to treat pain.

Hamstring Strain

Usually felt as a sudden sharp pain in the back of the thigh, a hamstring strain is an injury that affects most athletes in their lower extremities. The easiest and fastest way to treat is through an alteration of RICE; a P at the beginning (for Protection).

Groin Strain

A tear or rupture to one of the adductor muscles in the groin area. The resulting pain can range, depending on the severity, from very mild to very debilitating. The main symptom is a flash of electricity that travels up your belly through the pelvic bone to where the tendons meet. It mostly affects weightlifters or athletes that change direction quickly.

Ankle Sprain

Soccer/football, volleyball, and basketball are common sports in which people sprain their ankles. This is a normal injury that takes place whenever you come down awkwardly after a jump and twist your ankle unnaturally. The main symptoms of an ankle sprain are swelling, tenderness to the touch, bruising, itching, cold or numb feet, and stiffness.

It usually heals itself after 2 to 12 weeks depending on the seriousness.

How Long Until You’re Back On the Field?

This is THE big question every athlete asks whenever an injury has sidelined them.

It is a tricky. Here’s a quick cheat-sheet.

  • Most mild injuries usually fix themselves after 48 to 72 hours.
  • If you have a partial tear, physical therapy will have you ready in a few weeks (4 to 6).
  • If you need surgery, then your convalescence will likely take months depending on the type of injury that you sustained.

How to Prevent Sports Injuries

weights

There are certain things any athlete can do to bring down the risks of suffering a debilitating injury. You cannot foresee the lightning strike, the shark, the wayward golf ball, or (for ankle sprain) a wonky sidewalk. Still, there are a few tricks that can lower your risks for some of the most common injuries stated above:

  • Maintain Strength: strong abs, quadriceps and hip muscles help keep your whole body balanced during exercises.
  • Lose excess pounds: being overweight causes undue stress on your body. Balance out an exercise regime with a complementary diet.
  • Warm up: before hitting the pitch do some light warm-up.
  • Shoes: continually change your sports shoes (most sneakers have a lifespan of either 1000 hours or 500km). Make sure your shoes fit well and provide the right absorption.
  • Performance Gear: the top brands have technology on their sides. Use their knowledge and spend part of your paycheck on getting decked out with the best.
  • Stretch: promote flexibility with gentle stretches.
  • Bi-monthly checkups: at the very least, if you’re an athlete get routine check-ups with your doctors.
  • Listen to Your Body: if it’s telling you to take a rest day and that it’s worn-out, pay attention. Sometimes, the only way to prevent injuries is by not doing anything at all and taking a rest. Sit back on the sofa and binge watch something on Netflix with a cold beer.

Conclusion

If you’re an athlete, you will deal with injuries. Yes, sports are rewarding, but they all have their own element of risk.

Thankfully, most injuries aren’t severe, only keep you sidelined for a few days. If the injuries are more severe, you’ll require more treatment.

The good news is that with the right treatment, you can always come back. Nothing should keep you off the field.

 

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