Most people agree that playing sports is a great way to stay healthy, have fun, make friends, and learn things like sportsmanship, camaraderie, and the rewards of hard work and discipline. Yet, there is a painful subject that often accompanies playing almost any sport, and that is sports injuries.
While the many ways of injury might vary depending on the sport, the age and skills of the athlete, the surfaces played on, and the quality of the equipment used, there are a number of injuries that stand out in their frequency.
Here are some common sports injuries and prevention tips, categorized by children and adults.
Youth Sports Injuries:
Since children’s physical maturity, sense of balance, and coordination may all be at different stages of development, falls, collisions, and accompanying injuries are just more likely to happen among young athletes.
Ankle sprains occur when ankle ligaments are stretched or torn. They often occur when jumping, wearing improper or poorly fitting shoes, suddenly changing direction, or playing on uneven surfaces.
To avoid sprained ankles, warm up with ‘dynamic stretches’ (see examples) and a slow jog, start the season with less intense workouts and increase them gradually, wear proper shoes, and avoid playing on hard or uneven surfaces.
Knee injuries include Osgood-Schlatter disease(1), patellofemoral pain syndrome(2), and runner’s knee(3).
Because knees are complex joints that carry a lot of weight and are responsible for a wide range of motions, knee injuries are common–especially among children. That’s because kids’ muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons may be at different stages of development, which makes them more at-risk. Plus, kids may not have yet mastered proper sports techniques, may be wearing less than optimal shoes, and are often playing on rough, playground-type surfaces.
Taking rest breaks when needed, stretching and warming up, wearing appropriate and well-fitting shoes, and engaging in knee-strengthening exercises can all help to support knee health and prevent knee injuries.
1. Osgood-Schlatter disease: Inflammation where the the tendon just below the kneecap where it attaches to the shinbone. This condition is most common in children between the ages of 10 and 15.
2. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS): Irritation of cartilage behind the kneecap.
3. Runner’s knee: Pain around the kneecap.
Concussions can happen when a bump, hit, jolt or whiplash of the head can cause the brain to bounce back and forth, causing disruption of normal brain function, chemical changes and, possible damage to the brain. Just how strong of a trauma event does it take to suffer a concussion? That, and the severity, varies depending on the speed, angle and type of impact and the persons age, health and any past head injuries. But even what seems to be a mild blow to the head can cause a concussion.
Symptoms of concussion, such as headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, may not appear immediately and the person need not lose consciousness to have suffered a concussion.
Concussions are more common in (but not limited to) contact sports and activities,such as football, soccer, hockey, basketball, skiing, wrestling, and cheerleading. But, 50 percent of head injuries occur from just 3 activities: bicycling, skateboarding and skating.
Many concussions are caused by kids taking reckless chances. Stress to kids the importance of playing safely, using appropriate safety gear, and following the rules of the sport. In the event that a head injury does occur, immediate removal from the activity and rest are advised, allowing the brain to recover. For more information, visit the CDC’s “Guidelines for Returning to Play After a Head Injury“.
Growth plate bone fractures
Young, still-growing bones are weaker and more susceptible to breaks. And growth plates (the still-developing ends of long bones such as the forearm, thigh bone, shin bone, and fingers) are especially vulnerable. The most common causes of bone fractures are falling, collisions, or repetitive stress on specific areas (more common in throwing sports).
To reduce injuries such as growth plate fractures, see that kids use proper gear, take adequate rest breaks, and don’t over train. If a fracture does occur, prompt medical attention is required to prevent long-term bone damage.
Common Sports Injuries in Adults
After years of wear and tear, changes happen to our bodies that make certain types of injuries more prevalent among adults. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments tend to lose elasticity and flexibility; bones may lose density; our joints become more painful, stiff, and less mobile; and our ability to heal slows.
Muscle strains and sprains
Also known as “pulled muscles”, muscle strains and sprains can range from minor overstretching to partial or even complete tears of muscle (a strain) or ligament tissues (a sprain). Acute muscle strains can occur suddenly as a result of a one-time event (such as improperly lifting something heavy). Chronic muscle strains can be the result of stressing a muscle over time by performing a certain motion repeatedly.
To prevent muscle strains and sprains, stretch and warm up beforehand, get on a regular exercise routine, and avoid being a weekend warrior if you are not yet in shape.
Unlike a muscle sprain, which involves a ligament, tendonitis is most often the result of overuse and gradual wear and tear of a ligament (though it’s possible to suffer tendonitis from a sudden injury event). Sports involving repetitive motions such as in golf, tennis, swimming, and running put one at a greater risk of developing tendonitis. Also, the chances increases as we age, since tendons start to lose flexibility.
Stretching and warming up, allowing for adequate recovery time, gradually increasing intensity, and using proper form and technique are a few examples of how to prevent tendonitis.
Most commonly seen in lower body bones such as the shinbone and foot bones, stress fractures often occur when muscles are exhausted. Contributing factors can include doing repetitive motions on a hard surface with shoes that are not appropriate for the sport and/or do not provide adequate cushioning. Fatigued muscles are less able to absorb shock. As a result, more pounding and force are transferred to the bones, which can lead to small, painful cracks.
Prevention measures include adequate recovery time, gradually increasing workout intensity, getting proper nutrition for good bone health, and wearing appropriate and adequate cushioning shoes. If a stress fracture is suspected, early diagnosis along with rest, less intense activity, and, in severe cases, immobilization of the affected bone may be needed to prevent further damage.
While children’s injuries may often be attributed to their growth and development, adult injuries are often the result of age-related deterioration in joint flexibility and function, possible muscle and bone loss, and the fact that it takes longer to heal and recover from injuries as we get older.
Regardless of the age, however, everyone would be wise to be involved in regular fitness activities and follow appropriate safety measures.
Eat a nutritious diet to support strong bones, muscles, and overall health, and don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER exercise! Staying hydrated helps to prevent muscle cramps and heat-related illnesses. Plus, good hydration supports joint cushioning, better performance, faster recovery, and overall optimal well-being.
If you suspect that any athlete, young or old, has suffered a concussion or bone fracture, seek immediate medical treatment. And ANY recurring injuries or any pain that persists should be looked at by a medical professional.
We’ll leave you with this interesting fact: When we think of sports injuries, we may picture a player being helped off the field during a game. In fact, well over half (62%) of sports injuries happen during practice. So informal play or practice time may be when the importance of sports injury prevention mindset counts the most!