Exercise and sports are key to physical fitness. These help people stay in shape and prevent diseases like high cholesterol and diabetes. However, sports come with the risk of injury. Accidents, improper sports gear, and wrong techniques can lead to minor and serious injuries. Contact sports, like football and basketball, account for more injuries than non-contact sports, like swimming and running.

A person is at a greater risk for sports injury due to these reasons:

  • Not warming up or stretching before playing sports
  • Being irregular at exercise/sports
  • Playing contact sports

Types of sports injuries

The sports that you participate in can determine the type of injury you are susceptible to. Some common injuries are:

  • Broken bones: A common injury is a broken bone, caused by sudden force applied to the bone. Fractures can happen when playing many sports. Symptoms of a broken bone include swelling, sudden pain, tenderness and numbness around the area where the fracture has occurred.
  • Dislocations: Dislocations are another painful sports injury. A dislocation happens when the ends of any bone move out of its normal position. These are common in most contact sports including football, soccer, and basketball. Symptoms include extreme pain, swelling, and not being able to move the area.
  • Achilles tendinitis: The Achilles tendon is a thick, corded tissue that connects the calf muscle (in the back of the lower leg) to the heel. Achilles tendinitis is an injury to the Achilles tendon, common to sports that require a lot of running. Wearing improper shoes, not warming up and suddenly playing an intense sport can cause the condition. Major symptoms include pain in the heel and calf while moving and swelling in the area.
  • Jumper’s knee: This is a type of painful knee injury, which involves inflammation in the tissue that connects the kneecap and thigh muscles to the shin bone. Sports that involve a lot of jumping like athletics, basketball and volleyball can trigger this injury. Being overweight leaves a person with a greater risk of getting a jumper’s knee. Symptoms include pain in the knee, especially just below the kneecap and stiffness.
  • Rotator cuff injuries: The rotator cuff is an area inside the shoulder, which helps the shoulder move and remain stable. Injuries to this area occur when the same action is repeated many times in sports like swimming, tennis, or baseball. Symptoms include swelling in the shoulder and pain when lifting the arm.
  • Runner’s knee: Runner’s knee is also a repetitive-motion injury like rotator cuff injuries. It’s common to athletes who do a lot of walking, biking, or general knee bending. Symptoms include pain behind the kneecap. The area may appear swollen, and the injured person usually feels a grinding sensation when the knee bends.
  • Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries: The ACL is a tough band of tissue connecting the thigh bone to the shin bone and gives the knee joint stability. It controls the back and forth movement of the lower leg as well. ACL injuries can occur during tennis, skiing, rugby and football. Landing incorrectly after a jump, suddenly changing direction and collisions can cause an ACL injury. Symptoms include difficulty in turning on a spot, instability of the knee and swelling.
  • Tennis elbow: Tennis elbow is a condition that happens when an athlete overuses the elbow, usually while golfing or playing tennis. The pain is felt on the outside of the elbow, caused by inflammation in the tendons. Other symptoms may include weakness in the arm, most prominently when you try to grip an object.
  • Sprains and strains: A sprain is a very common sports injury. It is a stretch or tear of a ligament near a joint, such as a knee, ankle, or wrist. Sprains are most often caused by falling or by a twisting motion. The symptoms are pain, swelling and bruising. A strain is different from a sprain, as it involves injury to the muscle and not any ligament. A strain occurs when muscle tissue is stretched or torn due to overextending. In sports, acute strains are most likely to occur when you are running, jumping, or lifting. Common symptoms are sudden pain followed by inability to move the affected area.

Diagnosis of sports injuries

Most sports injuries cause immediate visible symptoms like swelling and bruising, along with noticeable pain. Common ways that doctors adopt to diagnose a sports injury are as follows:

  • Imaging tests: MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds and X-rays are important tools that help doctors confirm the presence and severity of a sports injury.
  • Physical examination: A doctor may attempt to move the injured joint or body part to determine how the area is moving or restricted.

Treatment of sports injuries

Treatment of a sports injury is determined by how severe it is. Here are some common treatment options offered:

  • RICE method: Treatment often begins with the rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) method that is recommended by doctors for mild sports injuries.
  • Rest: This includes avoiding and reducing daily physical activity. A person may be asked to use crutches or a walking stick if the knee or ankle is injured.
  • Ice: This includes applying an ice pack to swollen areas for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours.
  • Compression: Some injuries require using elastic compression bandages to limit swelling.
  • Elevation: The injured part of the body needs to be kept raised above the level of the heart wherever possible. This helps reduce swelling.
  • Surgical procedures:Most often, the last option for sports injuries is surgery. Some severe injuries like badly broken bones, ACL tears and shoulder labral tears require surgery to reconstruct or repair the affected part. Some common surgical procedures include (ACL) reconstruction, biceps tenodesis surgery and arthroscopy of the knee, shoulders and ankles.
  • Physiotherapy: Recovering from surgeries or long-term injury requires physiotherapy as well. Physiotherapy is a specialist treatment where massage, exercises and manipulation are used to improve the range of motion of an injured area. Physiotherapists also design exercise programs for the injured person to strengthen the injured body part, facilitate return of normal function in the area and reduce the risk of another injury.

Seeking medical assistance

It is important to see a doctor for a sports injury in the following instances:

  • If there are signs of swelling, visible lumps/bumps
  • If the area cannot take any weight
  • If popping or crunching sounds are heard on using an injured joint
  • If the pain is severe, or if it does not go away after a few days
  • If there is no improvement after 24-36 hours of medically recommended treatments like RICE

Preventing sports injuries

  • Warm up: Warm up before playing any sport. Cold muscles become overstretched and tear more easily than properly warmed up muscles.
  • Use proper technique: Most sports require a person to learn proper postures and stances to avoid injuries. Avoid playing intense sports or for a prolonged period of time if you are not skilled at a sport or are just playing for enjoyment.
  • Have the proper equipment: Wearing the right clothes and shoes can protect your limbs from injuries. Sports like rugby require protective gear which should always be worn.
  • Resume activity slowly: To prevent an injury from worsening, proper rest is necessary. Even after the recommended rest period, do not immediately go back to playing the sport with the same level of intensity as before the injury.

Never ignore any new or worsening symptoms of a sports injury. Visit a sports medicine specialist at the earliest, as an early diagnosis and treatment can allow for faster and better recovery. Proper knowledge about injury prevention can help athletes enjoy sports while minimizing the risk of major injuries. Your doctor can guide you on such information.

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