Common Sports Injuries and How to Treat and Prevent Them
Physical activity is an important part of daily life. It’s vital to overall health. Participating in a sport of any kind is a great way to engage socially while simultaneously providing the body with much-needed movement, blood flow and muscle strengthening.
Sports always come with a risk of injury, however. For all of the benefits that sports provide, they also put muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons under an increased amount of stress.
Understanding this risk is key to preventing some of the most common sports injuries. Recognizing the signs, treatment options and ways to prevent further injury in the future is essential to being able to participate in the sports that many people enjoy.
- How to treat and prevent a sprain or strain injury
- Complete ligament or muscle tears
- How to treat complete ligament or muscle tears
- Stress fractures
- How to treat a stress fracture
- General sports injury prevention
- Sports medicine professionals at AnMed Health
One of the most common injuries incurred in sports is a sprain. Bones and joints are connected throughout the body by bands known as ligaments. When these ligaments are stretched beyond their normal capacity, a sprain occurs.
Ligaments are naturally designed to stretch, but when an excessive amount of force is applied during a sporting activity, there’s a risk that they might be partially or even completely torn. Sprains are most commonly seen affecting the:
Sprains happen often in sports like basketball, football and baseball. This is due to the high-speed nature of these activities and the likelihood of a high-intensity impact. These sports also come with opportunities for injury to muscles or tendons, which is referred to as a strain and covered below.
Symptoms associated with a sports-related sprain may include:
- Limited mobility or weakness
While a sprain can’t always be avoided, there are standard treatment options that can help an athlete to get back out on the court or field faster. Seeing a doctor is the first step to making sure that it’s a simple sprain and not a more serious injury.
Strains are another common sports injury that athletes experience. Strains are diagnosed as injuries to tendons or muscle fiber. Tendons connect muscle to the bone, which is why this type of injury is often referred to as a pulled muscle.
Excessive use of the body’s muscles through sporting activities can lead to the muscle fibers and tendons ripping. While some athletes experience chronic strain as a result of repetitive and prolonged movements, others may only experience acute strains.
Some of the more common strains due to sports occur at the:
Athletes participating in high contact sports like football, ice hockey, soccer or rugby are more likely to experience acute strains due to falls, tackles or other types of impact or excessive load. Athletes that participate in more recreational sports like hiking, biking, running or swimming, which require repetitive movements, may experience more chronic strain over time.
Symptoms of muscle strain may include:
- Pain at the strain site
- Limited mobility
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle spasms
How to treat and prevent a sprain or strain injury
Once a sprain or strain has been diagnosed, it’s important to ice the area for 15 to 20 minutes at a time every 2 to 3 hours for a couple of days following the injury. This controls the initial inflammation and pain. Making sure to wrap the sprain with a compression bandage immediately will reduce bleeding or bruising and reduce inflammation in the area. This will help the ligament, muscle or tendon to recover more quickly and reduce the initial soreness and debility.
Keeping a sprain or strain elevated whenever possible is also helpful to reduce swelling and hopefully lead to a quicker recovery. Raising the injured area of the body above the heart creates the most effect.
It’s also highly recommended to stretch before taking part in a sporting activity to reduce the likelihood of a sprain or strain. Movement stretches called “dynamic stretching” are known to be the most effective. Regular strengthening exercises will prepare ligaments, muscles, and tendons to absorb impacts more effectively.
Wearing a brace may be a good way to add protective reinforcement. Make sure you’re fitted with the right shoes and other equipment to reduce the number of sprains, strains, and other injuries incurred over time.
Complete ligament or muscle tears
While ligaments and tendons are highly susceptible to more minor sprains and strains, they’re also at risk for complete tears. Tears within ligaments, tendons, or muscles commonly occur in sports in which quick directional changes, jumping, or heavy contact is required.
Athletes in sports like skiing, soccer, basketball and football frequently suffer from injuries of this nature. Areas of the body commonly affected by these types of tears include:
While a tear in any area of the body is painful, tears within the ligaments of the knee and leg tend to be most common for athletes. These can include:
- ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears
- MCL (medial collateral ligament) tears
- PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) tears
- LCL (lateral collateral ligament) tears
How to treat complete ligament or muscle tears
Though many injuries are of a more minor variety and can be treated without surgery, some more significant injuries could lead to a need for surgery and/or more complex treatments and rehabilitation.
For example, the ACL or “anterior cruciate ligament” is a major ligament in the knee. There are extensive injuries to the ACL among athletes each year. The Center for Disease Control estimates that there are 250,000 ACL injuries in the U.S. annually, representing over $2 billion in health care costs.
Unfortunately, an ACL tear isn’t hard to miss. It’s generally associated with a loud popping sound as the ligament gives way. Rapid swelling in the knee, severe pain and a loss of mobility in the leg follow.
Surgical intervention is typically necessary to repair a torn ACL. The recovery time with physical therapy is anywhere from 6 months to a year, depending on the severity of the initial injury.
Newer treatments like the use of platelets or stem cells from a patients’ own body, referred to as “orthobiologic” treatments , may be combined with surgical solutions to help athletes recover more quickly from ACL and other ligament-related injuries. This specialized approach involves using a patient’s platelets (called “platelet-rich plasma”) or stem cells to promote a quicker natural healing response from the body.
Strength training and regular conditioning are a cornerstone of ACL tear prevention. The body can be trained to handle athletic impacts, quick movements and sudden stops. Unfortunately, a single ACL tear can mark the end of an athletic career — making it that much more important to take strength training seriously from a young age.
Rehabilitation protocols, typically overseen by highly trained professionals like physical therapists and athletic trainers, are almost always paramount in recovering from these more significant injuries.
Beyond muscle injuries, stress fractures are also a common sports injury. Stress fractures are linked to overuse or repetitive movements like running long distances and jumping. These movements are often required for activities like track, dance, gymnastics, basketball and soccer.
While stress fractures can occur across the body, they’re most regularly seen in areas that are weight-bearing, such as the feet and legs. Individuals who have a stress fracture may experience symptoms such as:
- Tenderness to the touch
Stress fractures have also been linked to bone density issues. This means that older athletes or under nourished athletes may be more prone to developing this type of injury. Those who suffer from osteoporosis are also particularly susceptible.
How to treat a stress fracture
Treating a stress fracture begins with plenty of rest. Time must be given to allow the bone to heal itself. Many physicians advise athletes to refrain from sports for 2 to 8 weeks following a stress fracture, depending on its severity.
Icing the stress fracture is recommended to manage some of the initial pain and inflammation. The affected area should be elevated above the heart whenever possible to keep swelling to a minimum. It’s important to avoid jumping back into full-competition mode after a rest period. Instead, athletes should participate in cross-training to strengthen the muscles around the bone.
A combination of protective footwear, modification of type of stress, or movement mechanics changes may be useful in managing stress fractures over the long term. Repeated trauma to the fractured area could eventually result in a full break.
General sports injury prevention
Taking time to prepare your body for athletic activity is the ultimate way to avoid injury. Make sure that you’re hydrated, well stretched, taking in proper nutrition, using appropriate technique, warming up and taking time to cool down. These practices are key to staying safe while maintaining a high level of physical fitness.
It’s also important to incorporate rest periods. Taking a break from high-impact or intense sporting activities such as days off or even longer periods during a given year can allow your body to recover to its full potential.
Sports medicine professionals at AnMed Health
When you’ve suffered a sports injury, you need to work with professionals who have the experience and expertise necessary to help get you back in the game safely. At AnMed Health, our sports medicine treatment options are top-of-the-line and are based on staying on the cutting edge at all times.
We cater to patients who are faced with sport and exercise injuries of all types. We can also help with sport enhancement services such as running gait analysis, speed training and lifting mechanics training. Our orthopedic walk-in clinic makes finding solutions simple and convenient. Reach out today!