Treating Sports Injuries: Staying Off the Sidelines
Occasional sports injuries are almost inevitable among athletes who train at an intense level for years at a time. Dealing with an injury might be painful and unpleasant, but athletes weigh the risks against the benefits, and most active people recognize that a healthy lifestyle means staying in motion, which occasionally means getting hurt. If we keep injury prevention in mind and learn a few simple tips for treating sports injuries, we’ll be able to weather occasional bumps and bruises and get back into the game as quickly as possible.
Recognizing and Dealing with an Injury: Common Sports Injuries
Most common sports injuries result from accidents, repetitive motion, and overexertion. Dealing with an injury means recognizing the problem and interceding before it gets worse, but keep in mind that dehydration and fatigue can both contribute to impaired judgment, which can keep us from knowing when it’s time to take a break. (These can also cause coordination problems, which can lead to sports injuries in the first place.)
Common Sports Injuries
Sprains: Ligaments are the fibrous strands of tissue that connect bones with other bones, and when we damage or tear these ligaments, we call this injury a sprain. First degree sprains result from overstretching a ligament, which can cause pain and swelling. Second and third degree sprains mean the fibers have been torn slightly or completely. Second degree sprains can cause weakness and a bluish discoloration, and third degree sprains can cause total weakness and immobility.
Strains: Tendons are the tissues that connect muscles to bones, and when we damage a tendon or a muscle, we call that a strain. Strains (or pulls) also happen in first, second and third degree categories, which range from overstretching to complete tears.
Tendonitis: The suffix “itis” means “inflammation”, and an inflamed tendon can cause redness, swelling, and a burning sensation. Tendonitis pain usually flares up at the beginning of exercise, subsides as the activity goes on, and then rushes back after the activity is over.
Fasciitis: Fasciitis is an inflammation of the fibrous tissue that covers muscles and tendons. This usually results from overuse of a specific area, as in the plantar fasciitis that often causes foot pain for runners.
Bursitis: Bursas are the small fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions and shock absorbers between our bones and joints. These can flare up when they become overstressed through impact or repetitive pressure.
Dislocations and Fractures: Dislocations happen when ball and socket joints in our hips and shoulders come out of alignment, and of course fractures happen when our bones break or crack through sudden impact or long-term pressure.
Cramps and Spasms: Hydration, gentle stretching, and conditioning (regular exercise), can help prevent the side cramps and leg spasms we sometimes feel when muscles involuntarily clench up. Once a cramp or spasm is underway, it’s a good idea to rest the area and massage it gently.
Recognizing and Dealing With An Injury: Treatments For Common Sports Injuries
The common sports injuries above usually respond to initial treatment based on the RICE principle, an acronym meaning 1) rest 2) ice 3) compression and 4) elevation.
Rest: First, protect the injured area from further harm. This means stop doing what you’re doing and take a break. Rest is beneficial for the duration of the recovery process, so resist the temptation to cut corners or start exercising again before your sports injuries have completely healed.
Ice: Ice has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Apply a bag of ice or frozen meat to an injured area, or freeze a Dixie cup full of water and then peel the paper away, leaving the bottom of the cup as a handle. Keep applying the ice for at least 15 minutes at a time for about two days. Then switch over to heat treatments, which will stimulate blood flow and oxygen delivery to the damaged area.
Compression: Compression with an elastic bandage can help reduce swelling and inflammation. Make sure the bandage isn’t wrapped too tightly, and recognize that swelling tends to increase for a long time after an injury takes place, so be ready to loosen the bandage now and then.
Elevation: Elevating an injured area above the torso can help drain the excess fluid, blood and other tissues that build up around an injury and cause swelling. Holding up a hurt limb can also reduce inflammation and pain.
Treating Sports Injuries: Injury Prevention
The best approach to treating sports injuries is prevention. And many of the small aches, sprains and strains that sideline us now and then are surprisingly avoidable. Keep these injury prevention tips in mind and you’ll be better able to keep your training on track:
Injury Prevention: Consistency
Regular exercise can keep us in top condition and also help us recognize our limits. Sports injuries tend to be very common among weekend warriors who don’t exercise frequently and then rush into whitewater kayaking or basketball marathons without adequate preparation.
Injury Prevention: Proper Habits
Before you work out, warm up with a few minutes of low impact activity to elevate your heart rate and increase blood flow to your muscles and tendons. Then stretch. Then exercise for a while. Then cool down gently. This simple routine can help you avoid common sports injuries related to overtaxed muscles and overstretched ligaments.
Injury Prevention: Realism
If you’ve injured the same ankle in the same way five times during the past year, stop and figure out what’s going on. Are you not giving your last injury time to fully heal? Are you phoning in your physical therapy? Do you need to work on your technique? Give your ankle what it needs. Don’t get into a passive aggressive battle with your own body. That’s a war you can’t win.
By the same token, if your minor sports injuries are becoming more frequent or more intense, adjust your approach. If you need to make graceful concessions to age, do so. It’s better to keep enjoying a sport you love at a scaled-back level then to overdo it and sideline yourself for good.
Sports Injuries: Getting Help
The tips above apply to short term treatments for minor sports injuries only. Of course, if you experience serious pain or immobility, or if your problem persists for more than three days, you’ll need to reach out for help. Treatments for serious sports injuries will typically involve pain medication, possible surgery, and specific instructions during the rehabilitation period. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us or leave comments on our site. But don’t lie there bleeding. If you need medical attention, talk to your trainer, your physical therapist, or your doctor.