Treat and Prevent the 5 Most Common Sports Injuries
If you live an active lifestyle—even if you’re not an athlete—chances are you’ll suffer from a sports injury eventually. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine when you need medical attention and when you can safely treat your injury at home. Here’s a look at the top five most common sports injuries, how to treat them and what you can do to prevent future injuries.
A sprain is a ligament injury that often occurs when sudden force is applied to a joint or to a bone that forms a joint. A minor sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched, and a serious sprain occurs when a ligament is completely ruptured, or torn. Sprains are very common in the ligaments of the ankle, knee, elbow, shoulder and thumb.
Minor sprains involve some pain, swelling and tenderness, which you usually can treat at home with RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Most minor sprains begin to feel better within two days and fully resolve within one to two weeks. If you experience severe pain, swelling, bruising or immobility, talk to your doctor right away.
A strain, sometimes called a “pulled” muscle, is a muscle tear often caused by sudden stretching or forceful contraction, usually during a change of speed or direction. A minor strain involves minimal torn or damaged muscle fibers, and a severe strain is a complete rupture of the muscle.
Strains are very common in the hamstring, quadricep, calf, groin, rotator cuff and lower back muscles. Symptoms include pain when contracting or stretching the muscle, tenderness, swelling and bruising.
Most strains can be treated at home with RICE and should begin to feel better within a few days of injury. You can return to your normal activities after the muscle strain feels better, and when the strained muscle regains the same flexibility and strength as the corresponding muscle on the other side of your body. If you experience severe swelling, bruising, immobility or pain that doesn’t go away, talk to your doctor right away.
A fracture is a broken bone that’s often caused by a traumatic injury, such as a fall or collision. It’s usually easy to identify a fracture because the symptoms are severe and painful.
If you think you have a fracture, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. Your doctor will take an X-ray so he or she can see the extent and severity of your fracture. Treatment largely depends on the location and extent of the fracture but may include immobilization with a cast for several weeks or surgery to repair the broken bones.
A concussion is a serious injury to the brain caused by an impact to the skull. Although minor concussions usually resolve with rest, symptoms associated with severe or repeated concussions can last for a year or longer. Symptoms of concussions vary in severity and can include:
- Mental confusion
- Memory loss
- Sensitivity to light
- Ringing in the ears
- Problems with balance
- Loss of consciousness
If you think you or a loved one has a concussion, it’s important to stop the activity and seek immediate medical attention. Concussion treatment typically involves rest until symptoms subside. With your doctor’s permission, you should resume athletic activities slowly and pay close attention to how you’re feeling.
Overuse injuries are the result of repetitive stress on your tendons, bones and joints and can be caused by overtraining, imbalances between strength and flexibility, poor body alignment and incorrect technique. Examples of common overuse injuries include tendonitis, stress fractures, shin splints, bursitis and joint pain, especially in the knee or elbow.
Overuse injuries are common in children and adults. The most common causes of overuse injuries in children are overspecialization in one sport or participation in athletic training that’s too intense for the child’s age. Overuse injuries in adults are often caused by repeated performance of the same activities, such as running or cycling, with no variation.
Some overuse injuries respond to home treatment using RICE and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. However, overuse injuries that don’t get better after a few days require medical attention.
Preventing sports injuries
One of the best ways to prevent sports injuries is to train properly for any athletic activity you’re going to perform. For example, adequately training for a marathon will dramatically decrease your chance for injury. Or, if you decide to take up a new fitness routine, such as CrossFit, start slowly and build up gradually.
You also should wear the appropriate, properly fitted equipment for your chosen activity. Adults should avoid performing the same activity repeatedly and alternate between strength-training and cardiovascular exercise. Children should avoid overspecializing in one sport by participating in a variety of activities. Children and adults also should get adequate rest between training sessions to avoid overexercising.
Updated June 27, 2017