Sports injuries can be as varied because there’s many people playing many different sports. For the average weekend warrior or hobbyist, however, sports injuries usually fall into 7 basic categories. Although they can occasionally happen despite your best efforts, following a few simple tips can help minimize your chances of these injuries happening to you.
1. Sprained Ankle
Sprains are among the most common injuries that sports enthusiasts face. An ankle sprain happens when your foot rolls, twists, or turns in an awkward way. This motion pulls on the ligaments of the ankle, which can be weak and prone to stretching or tearing.
To help prevent ankle sprains, choose supportive shoes and replace them when they show signs of wear. Condition your muscles by gradually increasing your activity over a period of weeks or months, and do a full cross-training regimen that includes flexibility stretches and resistance exercises. Always warm up with light activity before each day’s hard sports workout.
2. Pulled Groin
Pulled groin muscles are typically caused by pushing off in a hard sideways movement. This can cause the inner thigh, or groin, muscles to stretch and strain. Sports such as soccer, football, and hockey are especially likely to cause a pulled groin, because they require quick bursts of speed in changing directions.
Minimize your chances of a pulled groin by starting a regular workout routine that includes groin strengthening and flexibility exercises. Lunges, cycling, and adduction machines can all help you improve your muscles and lower the chances for injury. Warm up slowly with exercises that include gentle stretching.
3. Strained Hamstring
The hamstring muscles run along the back of the upper leg, and normally work in tandem with the quadriceps on the front of the upper thigh. Working together, the muscles allow you to bend your knees and straighten your legs at the hips. When you need a burst of power from your legs, however, the tremendous forces required can throw the two groups of muscles out of alignment, causing your hamstring muscles to overcompensate and stretch or strain.
You are at higher risk for a strained hamstring if your muscles are fatigued or overworked, if your quadriceps are significantly stronger than your hamstrings, or if you do not properly warm up. Reduce your chances of injury by incorporating a hamstring-strengthening and flexibility routine into your normal workout routine. Always warm up your legs thoroughly before attempting power sports such as sprinting or skating, and stop to rest if you feel pain or fatigue. Hamstring injuries can take months to heal due to the normal pressure that comes from walking, so prevention is especially important.
4. Shin Splints
Shin splints are burning pains that radiate down the front of one or both lower legs. They are most often related to running, especially long distances on hard ground. Caused by inflammation of the muscles or surrounding soft tissues, shin splints can occur for many reasons. Among the most common are badly-fitted shoes, weak leg and foot muscles, and simple overuse.
Prevent shin splints by embarking on a workout regimen that includes foot and leg strengthening, cross-training, and a gradual increase in running distance. Check with a running coach or a qualified physical therapist to ensure that your form is good. Longer strides and heel or toe strikes are among the factors that can raise your risk for shin splints. If you are a serious runner, have a professional fitting for properly designed running shoes.
5. Torn ACL
The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of four ligaments that stabilize the kneecap. ACL injuries can occur when you take direct trauma to the knee, and when you twist or rotate quickly with your foot planted on the ground. When you tear your ACL, you will not only feel great pain, but hear a characteristic popping sound. ACL tears regularly take down pro athletes, ending a season and requiring surgery before training can resume.
Because ACL injuries are so serious, it is best to prevent them whenever possible. Cross-training and endurance building are absolutely essential. Work on your lower leg strength and flexibility year-round, and plan on at least four weeks of pre-season training before jumping into your chosen sport. If you take off more than a week or so from playing, ease back into the sport rather than returning directly to your previous level of play.
6. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)
Also known as “runner’s knee,” patellofemoral pain syndrome is generally a repetitive use condition caused by the repeated motion of the kneecap against the thigh bone. Over time, this can erode tissue and cause painful irritation. Contributing factors include unusually large or poorly positioned kneecaps, very high arches, flat feet, and worn cartilage in the knee. Such biomechanical factors are best treated with customized shoes, soft-surface running, and gradual increases in mileage and hill work. However, the most common cause for PFPS is a weak vastus medialus oblique (VMO), one of the four muscles that make up the quadriceps.
Cross-training regimens that focus on flexibility and strength throughout the legs can dramatically decrease the risk for muscle-induced PFPS. If you begin to feel pain during your workout, immediately cut your mileage and avoid downward slopes until you feel better. Rebuild your endurance on smaller, less steep hills and softer, smoother surfaces.
7. Tennis Elbow
Tennis elbow is a common overuse injury that causes chronic or recurring pain in the elbow. Despite the name, tennis elbow can affect not only tennis players, but anyone who repetitively uses the arms, wrists, and hands. Tennis elbow affects the outer structures of the elbow, while a related condition, golfer’s elbow, affects the inside of the elbow. Both conditions are marked by gradually developing pain that is worse when squeezing objects or manipulating utensils.
Minimize your risks by embarking on a cross-training routine designed to improve strength and flexibility throughout your arms and hands. Learn the proper physical techniques for your sport, and check with an experienced trainer to ensure that your posture and form are correct. Consider wearing a counterforce brace during situations when repetitive use is likely to occur, and switch out which hand you are using whenever possible. When off the courts, find ways to perform daily activities that do not further aggravate the pain.
How Can a Sports Injury Prevention Program Help?
Once the exclusive province of world-class athletes, sports injury prevention programs are rapidly gaining in popularity among people of all ages and levels of fitness. In this type of program, a qualified physical therapist will thoroughly evaluate your current physical condition and correct existing issues with your body movements that can lead to injuries. Your therapist will then prescribe targeted exercises designed to promote overall strength and flexibility as well as to improve your performance in your chosen sport.
There is no guarantee that you will never experience a sports-related injury. If you do, we are here to help. To speed your recovery and minimize your chances of being reinjured, give Connecticut Family Physical Therapy a call today at 203-227-5431. We look forward to being a part of your fitness journey!