Common Types of Sports Injuries
•Muscle sprains and strains
•Tears of the ligaments that hold joints together
•Tears of the tendons that support joints and allow them to move
•Fractured bones, including vertebrae.
A fracture is a break in the bone that can occur from either a quick, one-time injury to the bone (acute fracture) or from repeated stress to the bone over time (stress fracture).
Acute fractures: Acute fractures can be simple (a clean break with little damage to the surrounding tissue) or compound (a break in which the bone pierces the skin with little damage to the surrounding tissue). Most acute fractures are emergencies. One that breaks the skin is especially dangerous because there is a high risk of infection.
Stress fractures: Stress fractures occur largely in the feet and legs and are common in sports that require repetitive impact, primarily running/jumping sports such as gymnastics or track and field. Running creates forces two to three times a person’s body weight on the lower limbs.
The most common symptom of a stress fracture is pain at the site that worsens with weight-bearing activity. Tenderness and swelling often accompany the pain.
When the two bones that come together to form a joint become separated, the joint is described as being dislocated. Contact sports such as football and basketball, as well as high-impact sports and sports that can result in excessive stretching or falling, cause the majority of dislocations. A dislocated joint is an emergency situation that requires medical treatment.
The joints most likely to be dislocated are some of the hand joints. Aside from these joints, the joint most frequently dislocated is the shoulder. (See illustration “The Shoulder Joint.”) Dislocations of the knees, hips, and elbows are uncommon.
What’s the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Injuries?
Regardless of the specific structure affected, sports injuries can generally be classified in one of two ways: acute or chronic.
Acute injuries, such as a sprained ankle, strained back, or fractured hand, occur suddenly during activity. Signs of an acute injury include the following:
•sudden, severe pain
•inability to place weight on a lower limb
•extreme tenderness in an upper limb
•inability to move a joint through its full range of motion
•extreme limb weakness
•visible dislocation or break of a bone.
Chronic injuries usually result from overusing one area of the body while playing a sport or exercising over a long period. The following are signs of a chronic injury:
•pain when performing an activity
•a dull ache when at rest
What Should I Do if I Suffer an Injury?
Whether an injury is acute or chronic, there is never a good reason to try to “work through” the pain of an injury. When you have pain from a particular movement or activity, STOP! Continuing the activity only causes further harm.
Some injuries require prompt medical attention (see the section “Who Should I See for My Injury?”), while others can be self-treated. Here’s what you need to know about both types:
When to Seek Medical Treatment
You should call a health professional if:
•The injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness.
•You can’t tolerate any weight on the area.
•The pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling or joint abnormality or instability.
When and How to Treat at Home
If you don’t have any of the above symptoms, it’s probably safe to treat the injury at home—at least at first. If pain or other symptoms worsen, it’s best to check with your health care provider. Use the RICE method to relieve pain and inflammation and speed healing. Follow these four steps immediately after injury and continue for at least 48 hours.
•Rest. Reduce regular exercise or activities of daily living as needed. If you cannot put weight on an ankle or knee, crutches may help. If you use a cane or one crutch for an ankle injury, use it on the uninjured side to help you lean away and relieve weight on the injured ankle.
•Ice. Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day. A cold pack, ice bag, or plastic bag filled with crushed ice and wrapped in a towel can be used. To avoid cold injury and frostbite, do not apply the ice for more than 20 minutes. (Note: Do not use heat immediately after an injury. This tends to increase internal bleeding or swelling. Heat can be used later on to relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation.)
•Compression. Compression of the injured area may help reduce swelling. Compression can be achieved with elastic wraps, special boots, air casts, and splints. Ask your health care provider for advice on which one to use.
•Elevation. If possible, keep the injured ankle, knee, elbow, or wrist elevated on a pillow, above the level of the heart, to help decrease swelling.