As an athlete, you’ve probably experienced your share of injuries—ranging from mild to severe—that have put you off your game for days or months at a time.
It’s important to recognize the most common sports injuries that could happen in your sport of choice. Education and prevention is key: which activities cause which injuries? Is there anything you can do prevent these injuries? What do you do at the moment you suspect something’s gone wrong? And how do you know it’s time to seek rehabilitation or physical therapy for an injury?
Common Sports Injuries
Also known as a “pulled” or a “torn” muscles, this is an extremely common sports injury. What happens in a muscle strain?
Essentially, your muscles are composed of numerous muscle fibers. In a strain, some of these fibers are stretched or torn. This can be mild, with only a few fibers stretched, or more severe. A Grade I strain is usually mild. But in a Grade III strain, the muscle can rip apart in two pieces or rip at its tendon connection.
Again, this type of injury can occur in any sport, though it’s somewhat more of a danger in contact sports like football, or sports that require rapid turning and movement, like basketball. Biceps and triceps commonly get torn in weightlifters. Groin strains can occur in sports that involve a lot of running and jumping like soccer.
While strains impact muscles, sprains impact ligaments, which are the fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones. Like a strain, a sprain can occur at different levels, from mild to severe. Symptoms include pain, inflammation, and decreased range of motion.
One of the most common types of sprains impacts the ankle. An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments that stabilize the ankle bones are stretched due twisting or rolling, and they most commonly affect the outside of the ankle. There’s a bigger risk of sprains in sports where athletes have to do quick pivoting movements, like soccer, football, tennis, and basketball.
Knee injuries are incredibly common; in fact, in 2010, knee injuries sent 10 million people to the doctor’s office. Here are some common knee injuries:
Torn ACL – your anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) stabilizes the knee joint with its diagonal placement in front of the joint. Injury to the ACL often occurs when it is torn from landing at a strange angle on the leg or switching direction quickly.
Torn Meniscus – Your meniscus is the cartilage in your knee that functions as a shock absorber. It can be torn from twisting movements – sometimes resulting in an audible “pop.”
Patellar Tendinitis – This happens when the knees’ tendons become inflamed and is often associated with skiers and cyclists.
Your Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel. Like most cases of tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon), this often occurs from overuse. This inflammation leads to pain and swelling in the back of your calf and your heel. This is most commonly found in runners, as the repetitive motion can cause irritation and inflammation over time.
Another affliction common to those that run is shin splints. These involve your tibia bone, which is the sharp bone we commonly call the “shin.” Pain is often most concentrated at the inner border of the tibia, though the inflammation can be found in muscles all around the site of the shin. Though it’s most common in runners, it can also be found in dancers.
This affliction is also known as lateral epicondylitis because it impacts the lateral epicondyle (outside knob) on your elbow. It involves inflammation of the muscles and tendons around your elbow joint, usually due to overuse in sports like tennis, racket sports, or weightlifting. Tennis elbow is usually considered a chronic sports injury since it is linked to overuse of the joint due to repetitive movements.
Golfer’s elbow, also called medial elbow, is an injury affecting the tendons that attach to the inside knob of the elbow. This condition is similar to tennis elbow but affects the inner tendons instead. The symptoms may appear suddenly or slowly over time, but either way is a sign that there is damage to the muscles and tendons in the wrist and fingers. The affliction causes pain, weakness, and stiffness due to the muscle damage and is usually caused by repeated and excess stress to the area.
Pain in the shoulder is a popular sports injury with overhead athletes. Multiple types of injuries occur in the shoulder and are usually due to overuse or repetitive motions. Contact sports also cause some shoulder injuries, such as shoulder instability, and affect the tendons surrounding the shoulder. A shoulder injury can lead to pain, decreased performance, and a decreased range of motion usually affecting the everyday life of the athlete.
Whole Body Biomechanics
Oftentimes weaknesses in your kinetic chain can lead to pain or dysfunction elsewhere in the body. The athletic body functions similar to a bike chain. When one link goes out it affects the attached links and so on. If an overhead athlete has deficits in the lower extremity, this will often alter throwing mechanics or overhead mechanics putting the elbow or shoulder at risk.
The kinetic chain is vitally important for peak athletic performance and deficits can lead to injury. For instance, knee pain can be a reflection of hip weakness, poor single leg control, or asymmetry with double leg loading.
The “root” issue is imperative to address so that the athlete can participate in sports with proper loading mechanics and maintain optimal confidence while playing. Oftentimes many of the aforementioned common sports injuries can be minimized or even prevented with proper kinetic chain use.
Warm up and Stretch
Learn the best stretches for your sport of choice, and make sure that you maintain good habits of warming up and stretching beforehand. Warming up is key because when your muscles are “cold,” they’re more liable to be damaged. Stretching will increase blood flow to your muscles.
Strengthen corresponding muscles
One of the best ways to prevent injuries is to strengthen corresponding muscles that will help keep you in alignment. For example, if you’re a runner worried about knee damage, do strengthening exercises on the surrounding muscles like your quads and hamstrings to help stabilize the joint.
Ease yourself into your practices, and work patiently with your body. If you haven’t gone for a run in a month, don’t try to run a marathon. Likewise, learn to recognize your body’s signs that something isn’t right. It’s always good to push yourself to do your best, but if you ever experience pain or exhaustion while training, stop immediately.
When you’re exhausted, it’s much more easy to make a mistake, such as landing wrong on your ankle. Also, it’s easy to cause an overuse injury, like tennis elbow and shin splints, when you push yourself too far.
Learn Basic First Aid
If you do feel like you’ve suffered a strain, a sprain, or an overuse injury (depending on the severity—a fracture can disguise itself as a sprain and require immediate medical attention) you can do RICE as a first aid measure:
R – Rest. Stop playing the sport immediately. Never push yourself after feeling that initial joint pain.
I – Ice the area to decrease inflammation.
C – Compress. Gently wrap the injury in a bandage.
E – Elevate. Lie down and elevate the wounded extremity
Train the Right Way
This may seem like an oversimplification, but it’s extremely important to make sure that you are practicing correct form while working out, cycling, engaging in competitive sports, running, skiing, or whatever sport you practice. Improper technique puts extra pressure on joints, contributing to overuse injuries. They can also cause acute injuries because you may land improperly on a joint
When to Seek Physical Therapy
For some slight overuse injuries, a bit of ice and a weekend can be enough to ameliorate the symptoms and get you back on your feet—hopefully with a little bit more awareness and care. But if you have pain that’s recurring when you’re engaging in sports or working out, it might be time to see a physical therapist.
And for an acute sprain or strain, you’re probably going to want to see a physician for initial care. Part of the rehabilitative process for sports injuries is seeing a physical therapist, who can help retrain you how to use your body to decrease the chances of future injury and give you exercises to help you get back on your feet. Physical therapy is widely considered extremely important to get athletes back on their feet and on the road to recovery.
If you’ve suffered a recent sports injury, are still suffering from an old injury, or simply feel like something is “off” and would like to prevent future injury, it’s a great idea to get in touch with a professional team of physical therapists. Contact us to set up a consultation today.