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, etc. In a perfect world, only good would come of playing sports — but of course, this is not a perfect world. People move in the wrong ways, people trip and fall, people make sudden contact with the ground and with each other…and sports injuries commonly occur as a result.
That said, the risk of injury should obviously not deter you from playing sports, but by being aware of some of the most common sports injuries, you can take steps to prevent them or at least reduce the risk of getting hurt. Let’s look at eight common possible athletic-related injuries and possible prevention measures you can take.
- Strains – 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. The best way to reduce the risk of strained muscles and tendons is to warm up and stretch before engaging in strenuous activity.
- Sprains – 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. Pre-workout stretches and warmups can help deter sprains, as well as practicing good technique in the sport you’re playing. Sprains often leave the ligament weak and susceptible to future sprains, so if you have a history of spraining a knee or ankle, for example, it would be good idea to support that joint with a brace while playing.
- Knee injuries – The knee is a very complicated joint, and it endures a lot of impact and wear during most sports activities — and for this reason, we’ve given it its own category for possible injuries. 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. Again, warm-ups, stretches and good posture can reduce the risk of knee injuries, along with proper padding and bracing (for instance, while playing contact sports).
- Fractures – 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. Fractures are an inherent risk with most strenuous and/or contact sports, but you can reduce the risk by wearing the appropriate padding, warming up, working out to keep muscles strong and flexible, practicing good technique, etc. Also, don’t “play through the pain,” as sometimes the pain is a sign of a strain or sprain that left untreated can make the bone vulnerable to fracture.
- Tennis elbow – You don’t have to play tennis to get tennis elbow (golf is also a common culprit). Tennis elbow is one of several “injuries of repetition” — a straining of the ligaments in the elbow due to overuse and repetitive activity. The best way to avoid it is to pace yourself. Take breaks, do other activities, and always warm up and stretch before playing
- Plantar fasciitis/shin splints – We’ve grouped these together also as 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, dodging or quick stops and starts. Both are common with runners, joggers, soccer and basketball players, etc. Proper stretches and occasional rest are the two best preventatives.
- 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. The best way to reduce your risk of back pain and injury is to keep your back muscles strong and flexible with regular low-impact activities, warmups and even good diet.
- Concussion – 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 from a spine-and-brain specialist 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. The best way to reduce the risk of concussion is to wear appropriate protective headgear when playing contact sports like hockey or football, or when biking or skateboarding, etc.