There are many benefits to participating in sports at any age, but being in the game is not without risks. With many Americans participating in sports from their toddler years through adulthood, it’s not uncommon for people to experience one or more sports-related injuries.
What are some of the most common sports injuries, and how can you avoid them?
According to the Brain Research Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anywhere from 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur in the U.S. each year. A concussion, also known as a mild traumatic brain injury, occurs when someone receives a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull.
“Concussions are much more common than we realize, with teenagers and adolescents being particularly vulnerable,” says Dr. Ritesh Shah, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “When the head is hit, bumped or moves with a sudden acceleration/deceleration movement, the rapid movement can cause damage to the brain tissue. The damage can be mechanical, chemical or metabolic and can make brain cells temporarily unable to function.”
Signs of concussion include headache, nausea, fatigue, confusion, changes in mood, sleep disturbances or memory difficulties. Symptoms can appear anytime from immediately following impact to a few weeks after the concussion occurred. If a concussion is suspected, Dr. Shah recommends removing an athlete from play immediately as well as resting both cognitively and physically. Athletes should also seek comprehensive physical and cognitive testing from a trained medical professional sooner rather than later.
Shoulder and elbow injuries are common among athletes, especially among baseball players. Dr. Shah says athletes can experience overuse elbow and shoulder injuries, torn rotator cuffs and shoulder labrum tears.
Repeatedly throwing a ball puts baseball pitchers at a greater risk of developing an overuse injury in the elbow. Tommy John surgery repairs the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow, one of the most common ligaments to be injured due to repetitive use. During this surgery, the ligament in the elbow, the UCL, is replaced with a tendon taken from another place in the patient’s body. Surgery is usually the last option for treating an overuse injury in an elbow. Many athletes try rest, ice and physical therapy before surgery is required.
Symptoms of an injured UCL include pain in the elbow, a tingling or numbness in the small and ring fingers and more difficulty throwing a baseball or anything else than before. Several factors can contribute to overuse injuries, but the biggest one is just as the name suggests – overuse. To avoid an overuse injury, a person should pay attention to signs indicate fatigue, take a break when needed and work with his or her coach to develop a plan that allows the athlete to get the most out of practice without overdoing it.
Dr. Shah has seen an increase in hip injuries in athletes in recent years. Hip labral tears have become more common, particularly in those who participate in hockey, soccer, football, golf or ballet. In a hip labral tear, the cartilage that lines the rim of the socket of the hip joint tears. Like many acute injuries, athletes know when it happens because they’ll feel a pain in their groin or hip, possibly a locking or clicking sensation and experience stiffness with time.
“Hip labrum tears usually occur in the setting of hip impingement or a hip developmental abnormality that causes pinching and high level or high impact activity,” says Dr. Shah, who treats patients from all over the region and nearby states for hip impingement. “Hip arthroscopy repairs both labrum tears and impingement and may prevent hip arthritis in the future.”
To prevent a labral tear, increase strength of the surrounding muscles and avoid overuse.
Dr. Shah sees his fair share of athletes with injured knees. Meniscus tears, MCL sprains, patellar tendinitis and cartilage injuries are all common, he says. One of the most common knee injuries he sees is an anterior cruciate ligament tear, otherwise known as an ACL tear.
This injury is quite common in sports today, with the number of children sidelined by this injury growing 2.3 percent annually. Females account for just over half the injuries recorded in a study published in Pediatrics February 2017.
The ACL is one of the knee’s stabilizing ligaments. Athletes will nearly always know when the tear occurs; they’ll hear a “pop” and then feel a sharp and intense pain in their knee immediately. Several hours after the tear, the knee will swell, with swelling lasting for several days. Depending on the severity, ACL tears are treated with or without surgery.
Colliding with another player or a ball can cause an ACL tear, but non-contact movements can also cause the rupture. Running and stopping suddenly, causing the knee to twist can cause a tear; so can landing a jump wrong in the case of dancers or figure skaters.
“Not using the appropriate biomechanics when jumping, landing or pivoting can lead to a higher chance of experiencing an ACL tear,” says Dr. Shah.
In addition to using proper mechanics and technique, Dr. Shah says other ways to prevent a tear include stretching to increase flexibility, performing exercise to strengthen the muscles around the knee and avoiding overuse.
Ankle sprains are very common. They account for 15 percent of all athletic injuries, and it’s estimated that 23,000 ankle sprains are suffered in the U.S. every day. Playing any sport can increase the risk of spraining an ankle, but really any activity, even walking through a street festival, can pose a risk.
Rolling, twisting or awkwardly turning your ankle can all cause a sprain. Symptoms of a sprain include pain, redness and warmth at the site of injury and swelling. Dr. Shah recommends the tried and true P.R.I.C.E. method to heal a sprained ankle:
- P – Protection. Right after the injury, avoid weight-bearing activities. If you need to move around, use a brace or walk with crutches or hiking poles to reduce the amount of weight you’re placing on the ankle.
- R – Rest. After a sprain, rest the ankle. Avoid playing sports or engaging in activities that will cause pain or stress the ankle further. However, a little movement is okay and possibly even helpful in recovery. Engage in gentle exercises that keep you moving but don’t worsen the sprain.
- I – Ice. While resting, be sure to apply ice to the injured ankle. Dr. Shah suggests icing 15-20 minutes every hour for the first week. Make sure there is not prolonged direct contact of ice to skin to avoid skin burns.
- C – Compress. Compress the ankle by wrapping with a bandage or ankle brace to stabilize the ankle, but don’t wrap too tight. Dr. Shah suggests compressing the ankle for three to six weeks and seeing a trained medical professional sooner to confirm the severity of the sprain and absence of a fracture.
- E – Elevate. For the first two days after the injury, elevate the ankle higher than your heart whenever you are laying down to control pain and reduce swelling.
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