While there’s no denying the many benefits of staying active, some of the movements required to participate in various sports, especially ones involving direct contact, may result in injuries. In most instances, sports injuries are a temporary inconvenience. Even so, knowing what to look out for when participating in your favorite sport can keep you from being sidelined.
Strains and Sprains
Strains and sprains are the most common types of sports-related injuries. A strain is a pulled muscle. Strains occur when a muscle is pulled beyond its normal range-of-motion. Fibers within muscles often tear if these tissues are pulled too far. Strains can be mild or severe, depending on the extent and location of the tear. Sprains are over-extension injuries that affect thick bands of connective tissues called ligaments rather than muscles.
It’s estimated that more than 5 million visits to doctors specializing in the treatment of sports-related injuries are due to some type of knee problem. Irritation from repetitive motion of the kneecap against the thigh bone (Patellofemoral syndrome) is one of several injuries that may affect the knees of athletically active patients. Parts of the knee are especially susceptible to injury since it’s the largest joint in the body and there’s very little protection offered from nearby muscles and bones. Common knee injuries include:
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears
- Meniscal tears
- Tendon tears
- Collateral ligament injuries
Affecting the shin bone (tibia), “shin splints” is a term used to describe pain within this area of the leg. Often associated with running, shin splints usually respond well to rest and the application of ice to soothe the affected muscles and soft tissues. This type of pain may result from a failure to do a proper warm-up or stretch prior to jogging or running. Pain often occurs along the inner portion of the shin where muscles attach to the tibia. Treatment typically includes flexibility exercises and the use of compression bandages to minimize swelling.
An ankle sprain occurs when one or more of the ligaments on the outside of the ankle has been stretched or pulled. As with shin splints, the general recommendation for treatment is initial rest of the affected area for 3-4 days. Physical therapy to strengthen muscles around the ankle may help prevent additional ankle sprains once ligaments have healed.
Typically affecting the outside of the arm where the forearm connects with the elbow, tennis elbow (epicondylitis) is an overuse injury. Pain may be experienced when muscles and tendons in the forearm become inflamed or when small tears develop. Treatment involves rest and the use of anti-inflammatory medications.
The hamstrings consist of three muscles along the back of the thigh. Sports-related injuries to any of these muscles often involve some type of over-extension or damage from repetitious motions. Surgery is sometimes necessary to repair damaged muscles or tendons.
A fracture is some type of break in a bone. A fracture can be acute, meaning it’s a one-time injury caused by a hard or direct impact, or the result of repeated stress to a particular bone or joint (stress fracture). Sports-related fractures occur most often in legs and feet. This type of injury is fairly common in individuals who regularly jump, jog, or run. Specific types of fractures include:
- Stable fractures: Broken bones line up
- Open/compound fractures: Skin is pierced and bone may be visible
- Transverse fracture: A horizontal break in the bone
- Oblique fracture: A break in a bone with an angled pattern
- Comminuted fracture: The bone shatters into multiple piece
Dislocations occur when a joint is out of alignment. The ball-and-socket shoulder joint is a frequent site of sports-related dislocations. Dislocations often occur during contact sports or while performing activities that require frequent stretching or extending of a particular joint. Hands and fingers are also common places where dislocations happen. Hips, knees, and elbows can also become dislocated.
Prevention is an equally important part of sports medicine. Most sports medicine practitioners will gladly offer advice on how to stay healthy and active while minimizing the risk of injury. If you do experience unexpected aches and pains, fight the urge to “play through it” and take a timeout. The sooner a sports injury is diagnosed and treated, the sooner you’ll be able to safely get back in the game.