2/5/2014 - Spring 2014 -- Living an active lifestyle can have many advantages. The health benefits that come along with staying physically active can make a big difference in our lives. There are certain risk factors, however, that accompany leading an active lifestyle: sports injuries. These injuries can result in pain, discomfort, loss of the enjoyment of life, and even more serious injuries.
While almost any part of your body can be injured to some degree while playing sports, the term "sports injury" is typically used for those that involve the musculoskeletal system--your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tissues.
Some of the most common sports injuries are sprains, strains, and knee injuries. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that more than 5.5 million people seek treatment for knee problems each year. Mild knee injuries such as runner's knee and tendinitis are less severe, although they can still cause quite a bit of discomfort and can limit one from participating in activities. More severe knee injuries like bone bruises, meniscus tears, or damage to the four major supporting ligaments in the knee can be very painful and may require surgery and/or extensive physical therapy.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
No matter the severity, sports injuries should never be taken lightly. What may seem like a minor injury on the surface could have significant long-term effects if not treated properly. So what should you do when you've been injured? Actually, the first thing you should not do is attempt to play through the injury. If you begin feeling some pain or discomfort during a certain movement or activity, STOP! Continuing on with this movement or activity will only make your injury worse.
Instead, seek professional medical treatment if you experience any of the following:
- Severe pain, swelling, or numbness
- Inability to tolerate any weight on the injured area
- Dull ache of a previous injury accompanied by increased swelling or joint instability
Who Can Treat Your Injury?
Many sports injuries can be treated by your primary health care provider, but each injury should be evaluated to ensure you're seeking the best possible care for your particular injury. Depending on the severity and type of injury, you may be referred to either an orthopedic surgeon or a physical therapist/physiotherapist. Orthopedic surgeons are doctors that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of injuries to bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves. Physical therapists and physiotherapists can develop a rehabilitation program for long-term treatment of your injury to prevent further injuries. Severe sports injuries, as with any severe injury, should be treated immediately.
When to Treat at Home
If you are not experiencing any of the symptoms listed previously, it may be safe to treat your injury at home. The National Institutes of Health recommends using the RICE method, a four-step treatment process that should be administered immediately after the injury occurs and should continue for at least 48 hours.
Rest. Take a break from exercise or other activities that may further aggravate your injury.
Ice. Treat the injured area with ice packs for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day. Be sure not to apply the ice for longer than 20 minutes, as prolonged exposure could result in cold injury and/or frostbite.
Compression. Elastic wraps, special boots, air casts, splints and other compression products may help reduce swelling of the injured area. Ask your health care provider for advice on the best treatment for your injury.
Elevation. Keep the injured ankle, knee, elbow, or wrist elevated as much as possible to help reduce swelling, ideally above the level of your heart.
If your symptoms worsen or fail to improve after attempting to self-treat, you should check with a qualified medical professional.
The Bottom Line Sports injuries can vary greatly and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. These injuries should not be taken too lightly, as they could potentially lead to more serious injuries or have other long-term effects. If you are experiencing discomfort as a result of your activities, do not downplay or self-diagnose the injury, and don't think it will go away by itself with time. Listen to what your body is telling you. A proactive approach will ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to treat your injury and will help you get back to the activities you enjoy most.
Preventing Sports Injuries
Are you prone to sports injuries? Following these helpful tips can help you avoid them:
- Stretch and warm up before exercising or playing any sport.
- Cool down after exercising or playing sports.
- Wear shoes that best suit your activity.
- Use proper form or technique when exercising or playing sports.
- Don't twist your knees when stretching--keep your feet as flat as possible.
- Learn to land "soft" when jumping--bend your knees when landing to absorb shock.
- Run or exercise on flat, soft surfaces--not on asphalt or concrete.
- Most important of all, know your limits--don't try to do too much!