Sports-Related Injuries: What You Need to Know
- A sports-related injury may result from a single traumatic event, such as a fall or collision, or from overuse when the body does not have time to heal from a repeated action.
- Overuse injuries are becoming more common among U.S. children and adolescents as young athletes are increasingly specializing in one sport. Playing a single sport year-round may increase a child’s risk for injury.
- Cross-train to strengthen different muscle groups and avoid overuse.
- Prevent injuries from collisions or falls by wearing protective gear and using appropriate equipment for your sport. Make sure playing fields are well-maintained.
- Treat injuries with RICE (rest, apply ice, wrap the area for compression and elevate the injured limb). If soreness or pain persists, seek medical care. Don’t “play through the pain.”
Most sports injuries involve damage to muscles, ligaments, tendons or bones, including:
A contusion, or bruise, is an injury to the soft tissue. It is often caused by blunt force, such as a kick, fall or blow. The immediate result will be pain, swelling and discoloration.
A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. Ligaments are flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to bones, and bones to cartilage. They also hold together the bones in your joints. Sprains often affect the ankles, knees or wrists. Learn more about ligament injuries to the knee.
A strain is twist, pull or tear of a muscle or tendon and is often caused by overuse, force or stretching. A tendon is a tough cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. Warming up before activity and stretching to cool down after activity can help prevent strains. Read more about sprains and strains in children.
Some examples of strains are:
- Pulled hamstring or hamstring strain: The hamstring is a group of three muscles in the back of your thigh that allow you to bend your knee. A pulled hamstring is characterized by a sharp, sudden pain at the back of the thigh and occurs when the muscle is stretched beyond its capacity or overcome by weight and force. Pulled hamstrings are especially common for dancers and gymnasts and in sports that involve running and sprinting. Proper conditioning and stretching can help prevent a pulled hamstring.
- Calf strain: A calf strain is characterized by pain and weakness in the back of the lower leg. A popping sound and bruising may also occur with more severe strains. Calf strains may result from jumping, lunging or running. Like hamstring strains, calf strains may be prevented by proper conditioning and stretching.
- Groin strain: A groin strain or groin pull occurs in the inner thigh or front of the hip and may result from jumping, kicking the leg up or quickly changing directions while running. A groin strain is characterized by sharp pain, spasms, tightness and bruising in the groin area. After a groin strain, you may have difficulty walking or moving your leg.
- Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis): Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, is characterized by pain in the back side of the elbow and forearm, along the thumb side when the arm is alongside the body with the thumb turned away. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist backward away from the palm.
- Golfer’s or baseball elbow (medial epicondylitis): Medial epicondylitis, also known as golfer’s or baseball elbow, is characterized by pain from the elbow to the wrist on the palm side of the forearm. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm.
- Lumbar strain: A lumbar strain is an injury to the lower back, which results in damaged tendons and muscles that spasm and feel sore. Trauma of great force can injure the tendons and muscles in the lower back. Pushing and pulling sports, such as weight lifting or football, can lead to a lumbar strain. In addition, sports that require sudden twisting of the lower back, such as basketball, baseball and golf, can lead to this injury.
- Jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis): Jumper’s knee is a condition characterized by inflammation of the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to shin bone (tibia). The condition may be caused by overuse of the knee joint, such as frequent jumping on hard surfaces.
- Runner’s knee (patellofemoral stress syndrome): Runner’s knee is when the patella, or kneecap, does not move well in the groove of the femur (thigh bone). Runner’s knee may be caused by a structural defect or a certain way of walking or running.
Fractures are breaks in the bone that are often caused by a blow or a fall. A fracture can range from a simple hairline fracture (a thin fracture that may not run through the entire bone) to a compound fracture, in which the broken bone protrudes through the skin. Most fractures occur in the arms and legs.
Stress fractures are weak spots or small cracks in the bone caused by continuous overuse. Stress fractures often occur in the foot or leg after training for gymnastics, running and other sports. The bones in the midfoot (metatarsals) in runners are especially vulnerable to stress fractures.
A dislocation occurs when extreme force is put on a ligament, allowing the ends of two connected bones to separate. Stress on joint ligaments can lead to dislocation of the joint.
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