Sport and exercise can sometimes cause injuries. Sports injuries can happen as a result of:
• Not warming up properly before exercising more vigorously
• Pushing too hard for your current level of fitness, or
• Using inadequate equipment
Before starting a new exercise programme or taking up a new sport, it is also a good idea to visit your GP for a check-up and fitness assessment.
TYPES OF SPORTS INJURY
Sport injuries can be acute or chronic.
Acute sports injuries occur as a result of a sudden impact or awkward movement. Examples include a pulled muscle or a sprained ankle.
Chronic sports injuries develop over time, often due to continual use of the same joints or muscle groups.
Chronic sports injuries can occur due to bad technique or occasionally structural abnormalities, such as an inherited bone or muscle problem.
Chronic sports injuries should be investigated by a medical professional to determine the cause and to prevent the injury getting worse.
Some common sports injuries include:
• Cuts and bruises
• Bone fractures and breaks
• Tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon)
Sports injuries can occur almost anywhere on the body. Some of the most common sports injuries and their symptoms are described below.
A sprain is where one or more of your ligaments is stretched, twisted or torn. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue around joints. They connect one bone to another and help keep your bones together and stable.
Sprains often occur in ligaments around joints in the ankle or knee. The joint is not dislocated or fractured. The symptoms of a sprain include:
• Inflammation (swelling)
• Bruising, and
• Restricted movement in the affected area
Sprains are common injuries in many sports and, if necessary, can be treated with rest and anti-inflammatory medication.
A muscle strain is where muscle tissues or fibres are stretched or torn. A muscle strain is sometimes referred to as ‘pulling a muscle’. Tendons can also be strained. A tendon is the tough, narrow tissue at the end of a muscle that connects it to the bone.
Strains are caused by a muscle that is overstretched or that over-contracts. Symptoms of a strain include:
• Muscle spasm, and
• A loss of strength in the muscle
Strains are common to many sports, particularly those involving running, jumping or rapid changes of direction.
Tennis elbow (epicondylitis) is a painful condition that affects the outside of the elbow. It is caused by strenuous overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm and around the elbow joint.
The symptoms of tennis elbow include:
• Swelling around the outer edge of the elbow (because the tendon is inflamed)
• Tenderness around the elbow, and
• Pain when moving the elbow
Tennis elbow is caused by repetitive movement of the muscles in the lower arm.
Golfer’s elbow has similar symptoms to tennis elbow. However, due to the difference in arm movement in golf, the inflammation (swelling) occurs on the inside of the elbow, rather than on the outside.
Tendonitis is inflammation (swelling) of a tendon. Symptoms of tendonitis include:
• Swelling, redness and pain at the injured area
• Restricted movement of the affected area, and sometimes
• A change in appearance of the affected area, such as a lump or a visible change in position of a limb
Tendonitis is a fairly common injury that can result from a strain or tear in a tendon. Tendonitis can occur in the tendons around the shoulder, elbow, wrist, finger, thigh, knee or the back of the heel (Achilles tendonitis).
Sore shins (sometimes known as shin splints) cause pain along the inside of the shin bone. The shin bone runs down the front of the lower leg between the knee and the ankle.
Sore shins are caused by inflammation (swelling) and tiny fractures (micro-fractures) in the surface of the bone. The main symptoms of sore shins are aching, throbbing or tenderness along the inside of the shin (which sometimes radiates to the outside).
Sore shins are a common injury in any sport that involves running and are often caused by doing too much training too soon. They can also be caused by running on hard surfaces or by running in shoes that do not have enough foot and ankle support.
Runner’s knee (chondromalacia) is one of the most common types of knee injury. It develops when the cartilage underneath the kneecap softens or wears away, causing inflammation (swelling) at the back of the kneecap.
If you have runner’s knee, you will experience soreness and discomfort beneath or to one side of your kneecap. It can also cause a grating sensation in your knee. Runner’s knee is caused by the repeated impact of running on hard surfaces.
Acute sports injuries, like cuts and sprains, are usually the result of accidents, such as a sudden impact or an awkward movement. This sort of injury can be difficult to avoid.
However, many sports injuries are avoidable because they are often the result of:
• Not warming up properly
• Poor technique
• Not using equipment correctly, or
• Not taking the proper safety precautions for your sport
WHO IS AT RISK OF GETTING A SPORTS INJURY?
Competitive athletes, such as sprinters, long-distance runners, gymnasts and rugby players, have a high risk of injury due to the intense nature of their training and the overuse of specific muscle groups.
SPORTS SPECIFIC INJURIES
The repetitive and aggressive movements used in many sports can result in a number of different types of injury to different parts of the body. Outlined below are injuries that are specific to some common sports.
Runners are at risk of getting a variety of muscle strains, particularly to the legs, lower back and lower half of the body. Ankle and ligament damage is also common, as well as Achilles tendon ruptures and calf tendon tears.
The sudden movement and intense power required by throwers, such as shot putters and discus throwers, can cause upper body injuries. The upper limbs, usually the shoulders, elbows and wrists, are particularly susceptible to injury.
Bowlers are also at risk of getting back and spine injuries, including muscle strains and stress fractures. Knee ligament and cartilage damage is also possible.
Jumping events, such as the long jump and triple jump, can cause stress injuries to the lower limbs and spine. Competitive athletes who participate in jumping events are at risk of developing overuse injuries to the tendons and ligaments of the knees and Achilles.
As football is increasingly becoming a contact sport, fractures, cuts and bruises are common injuries. Other possible injuries include boot stud injuries, ankle sprains and knee ligament and cartilage damage due to repeated twisting actions.
Racquet sports include badminton, tennis and squash. Injuries are often caused by players falling or twisting and damaging muscles, ligaments, tendon. There is also the risk due to poor technique or repetitive strain to the elbows and causing tennis elbow.
You should not continue to exercise when you feel pain, regardless of whether your sports injury is acute (occurs suddenly) or chronic (long-term).
If a particular movement or activity hurts, stop doing it and seek advice. Continuing to exercise while you are injured may cause further damage and prolong your recovery time.
WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT
If you sustain a severe injury while doing a sporting activity, such as a deep cut or concussion from a blow to the head, visit your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.
If your injury does not require medical treatment, for example a mild sprain or other minor muscle or ligament damage, you can treat it at home using RICE therapy. RICE stands for:
• Rest: avoid regular exercise and reduce daily physical activity. Using crutches or a walking stick may help if you are unable to put weight on your ankle or knee.
• Ice: apply an ice pack to the affected area for 10 to 20 minutes. Do not allow the ice to touch your skin directly as this may cause a cold burn. Before applying ice, wrap it in a towel or put a towel over the injured area.
• Compression: apply pressure (compression) using elastic compression bandages. This may help to limit swelling.
Elevation: keep the injured leg, knee, arm, elbow or wrist raised above the level of the heart as this may also help reduce swelling.
After 48 hours of RICE therapy, stop compression and try moving the injured area. If, after this time, your symptoms are worse, get advice from a healthcare professional.
Rehabilitation is an important part of treating sport.
With most sports injuries it helps to mobilise (move) the injured part as soon as possible to help speed up the healing process. Gentle exercises should improve the area’s range of motion. As movement becomes easier and pain decreases, stretching and strengthening exercises can be introduced.
During the rehabilitation process, do not attempt to do too much too quickly. Start by doing frequent repetitions of a few simple exercises before gradually increasing the amount you do. Avoid painful activities and do not return to your sport until you have no pain and full strength and flexibility have returned to the injured area.
Due to the intensity and frequency of their training, it can be difficult for competitive athletes to avoid sports injuries.
However, for most other people, sports injuries are usually the result of accidents that could have been prevented. Follow the simple guidelines below to help prevent injury.
It is very important to warm up properly before starting to exercise more vigorously.
A proper warm-up routine should last for a minimum of 10 minutes. Start with a few minutes of gentle exercise, such as walking or jogging, to get the blood flowing to your muscles. Gradually increase the pace until you are running briskly.
Once your muscles are warm, do some gentle stretching exercises, paying particular attention to the muscle groups that you will be using, for example legs for running and arms and shoulders for racquet sports. Only begin more vigorous activity after you have warmed up thoroughly.
DON’T OVER DO IT
If you are starting a new exercise programme, it is very important that you don’t overdo it. If you have not exercised for a long time, strenuous activity could do more harm than good.
Be realistic and honest with yourself about what you can achieve with your current level of fitness. Once your fitness improves, you will be able to increase your level of activity.
A qualified fitness instructor or personal trainer will be able to give you advice about the correct amount of activity for your current fitness level. If you have never exercised before or it is a while since you last exercised, it is a good idea to see your GP for a health check-up before you start a new exercise programme.
Always drink plenty of water when exercising to prevent dehydration. If you become dehydrated, your physical and mental fitness will be impaired.
Aim for one glass of water for every 20 minutes of exercise. This should be in addition to drinking the recommended six to eight glasses (1.2 litres) of water a day. If you are exercising in warm weather or participating in endurance sports, you will need to drink more.
USE THE RIGHT TECHIQUE
To avoid a sports injury, always use good technique. Using the proper technique for your sport can help reduce the risk of overuse injuries, such as tendonitis and stress fractures.
If you are unsure about the correct technique, a qualified sports coach will be able to provide you with coaching and advice. If you are exercising in a gym or a leisure centre, ask a fitness instructor or member of gym staff for guidance.
USE THE PROPER EQUIPMENT
Head guards and helmets are particularly important for sports where the head is vulnerable to injury, such as rugby, boxing, cricket, cycling, skiing, snowboarding and motorsports. Helmets protect the skull and brain from injuries caused by impacts to the head, greatly reducing the risk of serious head injuries.
For some sports, particularly those that involve person-to-person contact, protective equipment is essential. For boxing and rugby, gum shields and protective head gear are particularly useful for avoiding injury. When playing cricket, helmets, boxes (to prevent groin injuries), shin pads and gloves will help prevent injury.
For sports that involve running, well-fitting, cushioned and supportive footwear is essential to prevent injuries to muscles, joints and tendons. As everybody runs differently, it is very important that running shoes are appropriate to your build and running style. If you are unsure, visit a specialist running shop to get advice about the correct footwear for you.
When you have finished exercising, make sure you cool down properly with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity, such as easy running, jogging and walking.
A gentle cool down will help remove the waste products that have built up in your muscles, leaving you with less muscle stiffness and soreness afterwards. Some gentle stretching, focusing on the muscle groups you have used during exercise, may also help.