Sports injuries generally occur during exercise or while playing a sport. If you are an athlete or a weekend warrior, you have probably faced an injury at some point.
You're at risk for sports injuries if you:
- Have not been regularly active
- Do not warm up properly before exercise
- Play contact sports
Sports injuries are more common in younger adults and children. Studies stated that every year, around 3.5 million children and teens encounter sports injuries. Sprains and strains are among the most common injuries that players may encounter. Contact sports, such as football and basketball, account for more sports injuries than noncontact sports, like swimming and running.
Types of Sports Injuries
Different sports injuries produce various symptoms and complications. The most common types of sports injuries include:
- Sprains: When the ligaments get overstretched or torn, it results in a sprain.
- Strains: It results when the tendons or muscles get overstretched or torn.
- Fracture: Broken bones occur due to trauma or overpressure.
- Dislocations: This happens when a bone is forced out of its socket and results in painful swelling and weakness.
- Rotator cuff injury: The rotator cuff helps the mobility of your shoulder muscles. Any tear in these muscles can cause the weakening of the rotator cuff.
- Numbness or tingling: The symptoms of numbness or tingling could be due to nerve compression. It may be a severe injury, and you should immediately consult a physician.
- Joint pain: Joint pain and discomfort could be a sign of structural damage or injuries within the joint. Joint pains should resolve within six weeks. If your pain persists beyond that, you should contact your healthcare provider.
- Swelling: It is a sign of inflammation. It is the body's response to injury while initiating the healing response of the immune system. Swelling occurs as healing blood and fluid accumulate to protect and heal damaged tissue or bone.
- Tenderness: If you can feel pain at a specific point by pressing your finger into the area, you may have a significant injury, especially if this tenderness is in the area of a bone, muscle, or joint.
- Instability: If you feel that your joint, such as the knee, is unstable when doing certain activities like running or climbing the stairs, do seek a professional opinion to rule out if there is a torn ligament.
- Stiffness: Stiffness or limited range of motion could be a clear indication of the severity of an injury.
- Weakness: Post-injury, if you feel the strength of an injured site reduces, it may indicate structural damage to a muscle or tendon that prevents normal function. Consult a doctor if you cannot lift your arm or walk because of weakness to rule out potential injuries.
- Redness: Inflammation after an abrasion, allergy, or infection could lead to redness at the injury site. Talk to your doctor if you have unexplained skin redness combined with the raised temperature in the injured area.
- Confusion or Headache: Mild head trauma to the head could lead to a concussion. It can result in cognitive symptoms, such as confusion, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, headache, dizziness, nausea, and irritability. A head concussion may lead to life-threatening consequences, and one should not ignore it.
Parts more likely to be affected by a Sports Injury
Although joints are most vulnerable to sports injuries, any body part can get hurt while playing sports. The following are the different body parts involved in sports injury:
- Head - The most common athletic head injury is a concussion, an injury to the brain caused by a blow to the head, a collision, or violent shaking. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that impacts cognitive functioning.
- Shoulder - The most common shoulder problem is inflammation or tearing of the rotator cuff, labral injury like bankart lesion, HAGL lesion, ALPSA lesion.
- Elbow - The most common sports-related tendon problems of the elbow joints are the Tennis elbow (Lateral epicondylitis) and Golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis)
- Wrist - Wrist fractures are common in athletes. Landing from a fall onto an outstretched arm can cause a wrist fracture.
- Finger - Dislocation of finger joints, finger swelling, and jammed fingers are common sports injuries.
- Spine - The most common spinal injuries in athletes are severe Low-back muscle strains.
- Thigh - A muscle strain, pull, or tear at the hamstring, quadriceps, and adductor muscles are common thigh injuries. The injury occurs when the thigh muscle is stretched beyond its limit, tearing the muscle fibers.
- Knee - Anterior knee pain (patellofemoral pain syndrome), Chondromalacia patella is a cartilage softening of patella on the underside of the kneecap that causes pain and grinding around it.
- Ankle - An ankle sprain is the most common injury of the ankle joint.
- Foot - Plantar fasciitis occurs due to the irritation of the thick, tough tissue that creates the foot arch. This plantar fascia tissue can become contracted and painful due to sports injuries.
Causes of a Sports Injury
A sports injury can occur due to accidents, poor training practices, improper equipment, lack of conditioning, or insufficient warm-up and stretching.
Sports injuries fall into two categories:
Acute Injury: It occurs due to an accident that results in immediate symptoms. For example, a slip, fall, tackle, or collision can result in an acute injury.
Chronic Injury: It is a longer-term injury. It may begin as an acute injury that does not heal, joint overuse, or improper form. Many athletes play through pain, leading to chronic injuries.
Who are at Risks
- Children are more prone to falling, resulting in injuries.
- Older Age
- Not taking the injuries seriously
- Being overweight
Most people come across sports injuries during routine physical examinations or checkups. The following are some diagnostic measures to identify sports injuries:
- Physical Examination : Your doctor may attempt to move the injured joint or body part to determine the mobility and the damage caused.
- Medical History: The doctor will ask questions regarding the injury and your past medical issues to analyze the situation in detail.
- Imaging Tests: X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds can help your doctor determine the cause of the sports injury.
Treatment depends on the location and severity of the sports injury. Initial treatment for many sports injuries includes controlling inflammation and promoting the healing response.
The acronym RICE is the immediate treatment of most acute injuries.
- R-Rest: A sports injury requires a rest period to allow healing of the injured area. Avoid physical activities that cause pain, swelling, or discomfort.
- I-Ice: Put an ice pack on the injured area 4-8 times daily for at least 15-20 minutes. You can also use an ice bag or ice wrapped in a towel to a cold compress.
- C-Compression: Compression or continuous pressure on the injured area by elastic bandage aids in the reduction of the swelling. Avoid wrapping the bandage too tightly, as it may hinder circulation.
- E-Elevation: Elevating the injured area above the level of your heart help reduce swelling.
The doctor also recommends a technique called POLICE (protection, optimal loading, ice, compression, and elevation). Protecting the injured joint with an assisting device, such as crutches or a sling, while gently moving the joint and gradually putting weight on the injury will often help speed healing.
After the initial healing period, the doctor will determine if additional treatment is necessary and may refer you to a specialist for your specific injury.
Treatments for sports injuries include:
- Immobilization with a splint, cast, or brace
- Medication for pain
- Pain-relieving injections
- Physical therapy
The best way to prevent a sports injury is to warm up properly and stretch before playing sports. Cold muscles are prone to overstretching and tears, while warm muscles are more flexible. Therefore, do a warm-up for at least 10-15 minutes before vigorous activities.
Also, take the following steps to avoid sports injuries:
- Use the proper technique
- Have the proper equipment
- Do not overdo it
- Cool down after playing
- Resume activity slowly
When to See a Doctor
Sports injuries are common. If you have an injury that is not improving with simple treatment and worsening, seek the advice of a healthcare professional.
Consult a doctor if you experience the below symptoms:
- Difficulty using the injured area
- Limited joint mobility
- Deformity of the injured area
- Bleeding or skin injury
- Signs of infection, such as fevers, chills, and sweating
- Headache, dizziness, confusion, or concussion
For many athletes taking a break from sports can never be easy. Letting a sports injury go untreated could sideline you for far longer or even prevent you from returning to sports altogether. Listen to your body and seek professional help when you need it.