Treatment and Prevention of Sports Injuries

More people are playing sports as a method of improving their health and fitness levels. If you overdo it or improperly train, a sports injury may result. Common causes of sports injuries are an accident, poor training and inappropriate equipment, lack of conditioning, and improper stretching and warm-up.

When you participate in sports, you are at risk for some type of a muscle or skeletal injury. General injuries are muscle sprains, tears of ligaments and of tendons, dislocated joints, and fractures. Certain sports are riskier than others and some injuries are regularly associated with a specific sport. Some of the factors than increase an athlete’s risk of injury may cause similar injury in the non-athlete. Tennis elbow not only can be caused by playing tennis but by carrying a suitcase. Runner’s knee can be caused by excessive pronation (rolling in of the feet as they hit the ground) while walking.

More than 10 million sports injuries are treated every year in the US. Many physicians and therapists have specialized in the treatment of sports injuries.

There are two types of sports injury. The first is the acute traumatic injury which involves a blow or a fall. Some examples of an acute injury are:

Fracture–a crack or break of a bone
Contusion, known as a bruise,– swelling and bleeding in muscles
Strain–stretch or tear of a muscle or tendon
Sprain– a stretch or tear of a ligament that supports joints
Abrasion– a scrape
Laceration –cut in the skin that is usually requires stitches

Acute injuries:

An acute injury occurs when there is sudden severe pain caused by a fall or blow to the body. When you suffer an acute injury, immediately stop the activity.
Seek medical treatment for severe pain, swelling or numbness, intolerance to weight bearing, increased swelling and discoloration.

Home treatment of a less severe acute injury:

Treatment for an acute injury is the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Rest is to reduce hemorrhage causing further injury or swelling. Ice will limit inflammation and reduce pain. Compression and elevation curb swelling.

Immediately after injury, the limb should be elevated. A bag of chipped or crushed ice (even a bag of frozen vegetables as it conforms to the body better) should be placed on a towel and not directly on the skin and then positioned over the injured part. Leave ice on the injury for 20 minutes. You can repeat the ice treatment four to eight times a day.
Ice is used for the first 48 hours. Do not use heat until after the 48 hours.

The second type of sports injury is due to an overuse or chronic injury. Repetitive movements such as throwing a baseball or running are risk factors. Some examples of a chronic injury are:

Stress fractures– tiny cracks in the bone’s surface
Tendonitis– an inflammation of the tendon

Wear and Tear injuries:

The most common cause of an injury involving wear and tear is overuse of muscles or joints. Without correction, a high risk of repeated injury is present. All sports have specific motions that are repeated (swing of the golf club or tennis racket). It is necessary to have proper training for sports and allowing for a recovery period after a hard workout. Every time a muscle is utilized in an intense workout, it is stressed and some tissue tearing occurs.

Common symptoms generally requiring treatment by a physician:
If you experience any of these symptoms it is best to seek medical attention. Note that soreness is temporary, but see a doctor if pain continues or worsens.

Inability to bear weight on a lower limb
Tenderness in an upper limb
Inability to move limb throughout its full range of motion
Limb weakness
Visible dislocation or break

Medical Treatments for sports injuries:

The physician will utilize X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the extent of the injury. Treatment begins with RICE and pain relief medicines.

NSAIDS: Over the counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen can relieve pain and reduce swelling. Tylenol only relieves pain; it does nothing for swelling.

Immobilization: Slings, splints and casts are used to immobilize the injury allowing time to heal and preventing further injury.

Surgery: Surgery may be required.

Rehabilitation: Early use of exercise after the injury can speed healing but allow time for rest.

Massage: A massage by a licensed professional can be beneficial as it increases blood flow to the injured area bringing nutrients and removing cell debris.

Cold therapy: Application of ice during the first 48 hours reduces swelling and pain.

Heat therapy: After 48 hours, heat increases blood flow which removes the cell debris and brings nutrients for healing.

Sports injuries:


A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament which joins the end of one bone to the beginning of the next. The ankles, knees, and wrists are susceptible areas.
Causes: trauma such as a fall or blow to the body
Symptoms: tenderness and/or pain, bruising, inflammation, swelling, inability to move
a joint
Treatment: RICE

Shin splints–Pain is located along the tibia (the shin bone which is the large bone in the lower front of the leg). This type of injury is frequent in runners.
Symptoms: Pain
Risk factors: improper stretching or warm-up, excessive training, running on hard
surfaces, not enough support in shoes, overpronated feet (flat feet)
Treatment includes cessation of running and trying alternate exercises such as swimming
or biking to strengthened muscles.

Achilles Tendonitis–This is a tear or excessive stretch in the tendon which connects calf muscle to the back of the heel. This injury is commonly found in the “week-end warrior.”
Symptoms: sudden and excruciating pain
Risk factors: improper stretching, stiff-soled
Treatment: Stop running and try an alternate form of exercise, reduce tension on the heel
with a heel lift inserted in shoe, stretch the hamstring.

Hamstring tear–The quadriceps muscles flex the hip and extend the knee during running and jumping. The weaker hamstrings extend the hip and flex the knee. Weakened hamstrings can cause a tear.
Symptoms and signs: usually will cause acute pain in the back of the thigh.
Treatment: RICE for the acute phase, stop running and try alternate exercise, and
strengthen the hamstrings

Tennis elbow, baseball elbow–This injury is generally caused by overuse and continued stress.
Symptoms: pain on use and then becoming constant.
Treatment: Avoid activity that hurts and substitute another type of exercise. Do
exercises to strengthen the muscles.

Rotator cuff tendonitis–Swimmer’s shoulder, tennis shoulder or baseball shoulder
Tearing occurs with the arm being moved above the head repeatedly.
Symptoms: Initially pain is felt when lifting the arm over the head. Later, pain occurs
when extending the arm to shake hands.
Treatment: rest the muscles, avoid pushing, surgery may be required


A fracture is a break in the bone. It may be acute which is a one time injury or stress fracture which occurs over time due to repetitive movement. A simple fracture is a clean break with little damage to the surrounding tissue. A compound fracture is a break where the bone breaks through the skin and there is damage to the surrounding tissue. This injury requires medical treatment.


Bones are attached together to form a joint. If this separates, it is a dislocation which frequently occurs in contact sports and involves the shoulders, wrists, knees, hips and hands. This requires medical treatment

Principles of prevention:

Muscles should not be exercised vigorously until they have been exercised at a relaxed pace for a few minutes during a warm-up. This makes the muscles more pliable, stronger, and resistant to injury.
Stretching can help to improve performance by elongating the muscles. Stretching should be done before and after exercise.
Cooling down gradually can help to prevent dizziness. Cooling down maintains increased circulation and helps to clear lactic acid from the bloodstream.

Preventative tips:

Avoid becoming a “weekend warrior.” Do not try to cram an entire week worth of exercise into a couple of days. It is healthier to do moderate exercise during the week.

Do the sport correctly. Use proper form.

Use safety gear.

Accept your body’s limits. Exercise at your own pace.

Increase exercise level gradually

Cross- training.

Total body workout: cardio, flexibility, and strength training

Wear proper fitting shoes

Exercise is a health benefit that should be incorporated in to everyone’s life. Because you enjoy the activity, you will be likely to continue. To reduce your susceptibility to injury, it is important to follow preventative guidelines. In conclusion, participate in sports but play safe.

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