Common Sports Injuries and What You Should Do When You Are Injured
If you think only sports stars like sprinter Tyson Gay, basketball player Yao Ming and golfer Tiger Woods are vulnerable to sprained joints and broken limbs, you may want to think again.
For many health-conscious Singaporeans, being active in sports and exercise seemed like the perfect way to keep fit. However for some people, particularly for those who overdo or don’t train properly, instead of reaping the benefits, they may end up putting themselves at risk of getting injured.
Understanding Sports Injuries
In the broadest sense, the term sport injuries refer to the kinds of injuries that most commonly occur during sports or exercise.
Sports injuries may happen to those who are new to a sport, begin exercise after prolonged inactivity, or do not warm up properly before exercising. These may also be result from accidents, poor training practices, improper equipment used, lack of conditioning, or insufficient warm up and stretching.
According to Mr Lim Hun Teck, Principal Physiotherapist, Raffles Physiotherapy Centre, “A simple warm up or stretching before launching into any intense session of exercise or sports like aerobics, running or football, does not ensure that you will be injury-free. In fact, the higher the intensity, the risk of injury to any part of the musculoskeletal system like the muscles and bones also increases. One way to prevent injuries is to start slowly and increase your exercise level gradually.”
Common Sports Injuries and Causes
So what are the common sporting injuries and their possible causes? Generally, it depends on your activity and current fitness level. Here are the most common in no particular order:
Sprains and Strains
Sprains are tears to the ligaments, the connective tissues that attach one bone to another. They are caused by trauma such as a fall or blow to the body that knocks a joint out of position and can range from first degree (minimally stretched ligament) to third degree (a complete tear). The ankles, knees and wrists are areas of the body that are most vulnerable to sprains. Signs of a sprain include varying degrees of tenderness or pain; bruising; swelling; inflammation; inability to move a limb or joint; or joint looseness.
Strains are pulls or tears of muscles or tendons (tissues that attach the muscles to the bones).These acute and noncontact injuries are results from overstretching or overcontraction. Symptoms of a strain include pain, muscle spasm and loss of strength. While it’s hard to tell the difference between mild and moderate strains, severe strains that are not treated professionally can cause damage and loss of function.
Because of its complex structure and weight-bearing capacity, the knee is the most commonly injured joint.
Knee injuries can vary from mild to severe, affecting the knee bones, ligaments, tendons or cartilage. Mild knee injuries include runner’s knee (pain or tenderness on the sides and below the knee); illiotibial band syndrome (pain on the outer side of the knee), and tendinosis (degeneration of a tendon). They can also result from a traumatic injury like a blow to or twist of the knee; improper landing after a jump; from running too much, or overuse of the knee tissues.
“If knee injuries are left untreated, it may result in more damage to the cartilage, ligaments or the bones,” says Dr Lim Yeow Wai, Specialist in Orthopaedic Surgery & Consultant, Raffles Orthopaedic Centre.
Achilles Tendon Injuries
The Achilles tendon is one of the longer tendons in your body, stretching from the bones of your heel to your calf muscles. It is one of the more serious sports injuries for amateur and professional athletes alike.
Many Achilles tendon injuries are cases of tendonitis (inflammation or irritation of a tendon), in which the tendon becomes swollen and painful. Besides middle and long distance runners, Achilles tendon injuries are also common in middle-aged “weekend warriors” who may not exercise regularly or take time to stretch properly before an activity. In a severe case, too much force on the tendon causes it to tear partially or rupture completely.
Other causes such as overuse, misalignment, improper footwear, medication side effects, and/or accidents can also contribute to the same Achilles tendon injury. For example, a sudden increase in hill climbing, worn out shoes, and weak or tight calf muscles. Men over 30 are also particularly prone to Achilles tendon injuries.
A fracture occurs when a bone is cracked or broken, 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 can be simple (one break with little damage to the surrounding tissue) or compound (multiple cracks and the broken bone sticks out through the skin). Most acute fractures are emergencies. One that breaks the skin is especially dangerous because there is a high risk of infection. Compound fractures can be very dangerous as it also increases the risk of infection.
Stress fractures occur mostly on legs and feet from repetitive stress on those areas from sports like sprints, hurdles, gymnastics etc., which requires constant running and jumping.
A dislocated joint is a joint that slips out of place which may result in damage to ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. It occurs when the ends of bones are forced from their normal positions. And when that happens, the joint no longer functions properly.
Dislocations are usually caused by a sudden impact to the joint. This usually occurs following a blow, fall or other trauma. Sports which involve a lot of pushing or stretching, like basketball or football, can cause dislocations, with shoulder joint being the most prone.
Unlike a fractured bone, a dislocated joint can be set relatively quickly. It only involves realigning the bones. Many individuals are able to move their limbs almost immediately after having their bones realigned. However, if the injury is left untreated over a period of time, it may result in a permanent injury.
What Should I Do If I Have Sports Injuries?
There is never a good reason for anyone to try to “work through” the pain of an injury regardless of its severity.
“When you are experiencing pain in any part of your body from a particular movement or activity, it is advisable to stop immediately as continuing in the activity can possibly cause further harm,” advised Mr Lim.
Seek Medical Treatment
Some injuries require prompt medical attention from a medical doctor, while others can be self-treated. You should seek immediate medical treatment if:
- the injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness
- the pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling or joint abnormality or instability
- there is loss of function
If you do not have any of the above symptoms, it is probably safe to self-treat the injury. Treatment often begins with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) method to relieve pain, reduce swelling, speed up recovery time and also prevent further tissue damage.
Follow these four steps immediately after injury and continue for at least 24-48 hours:
Rest. The injured area must remain relatively inactive. The duration of rest will depend on the severity of the injury.
Ice. The application of ice causes blood vessels to constrict, thus decreases circulation and results in less inflammation at the site. A cold pack, ice bag or wet towel with crushed ice can be used over the injured site for periods of 20 minutes every two hours for the first 24-48 hours. If possible, ice should also be applied to the surrounding area.
Note: Do not apply ice or a plastic bag containing ice directly onto the skin as this may cause ice burn.
Compression. Compression of the injured area may help to reduce the swelling. This can be achieved with elastic wraps. Care should be taken to ensure that circulation is not constricted by bandaging too tightly.
Elevation. If possible, keep the injured part on a pillow, above the level of the heart as this helps to reduce blood pressure and swelling.
Did You Know?
During the first 24-48 hours after an injury, there are certain actions that must be avoided. These include the application of heat (for example, use of hot ointments, hot baths, saunas and spas), drinking alcohol, physical activity and massage. These actions all increase blood flow and lead to swelling.
Who Can I See For An Injury?
While severe injuries will need to be seen immediately in an emergency room, most sports injuries can be evaluated and, in many cases, treated by a doctor.
Depending on your preference and the severity of your injury, you may want to see, or have your doctor refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, who is able to diagnose and provide treatment for any part of the musculoskeletal system like the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves, or a physiotherapist,who can develop a rehabilitation program for you.
In addition to using conventional RICE method, many sport injuries sufferers also seek treatment from a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician.
Physician Stephen Lau, TCM Physician, Raffles Chinese Medicine shares, “Most patients who seek treatment for sports-related injuries at the clinic are usually those with long-term injuries. TCM-based therapies such as acupuncture and message (Tui Na) are effective treatment for these patients because they help to reduce pain and increase their range of motion. Together with herbal medical treatment, they can also expect a faster recovery time.”
Although people who exercise and participate actively in sports are more likely to experience injuries to their muscles, bones and joints as compared to those who don’t, this certainly does not mean you should avoid sports as the health benefits far outweigh the cost in terms of sports injuries. Most sports injuries can be treated effectively and those who suffer injuries can return to a satisfying level of physical activity after an injury. In fact, many of these common sports injuries could be prevented if people take the proper and necessary precautions.