Worried about sports injuries? Don't sweat it. Think
of avoiding injury as just another part of playing
by the rules - only this rulebook is the one that keeps you from
getting hurt. That's because the best way to deal with sports
injuries is to prevent them. Prevention includes knowing the rules
of the game you're playing, using the proper equipment, and
playing it safe
But you've practiced with your team, played it safe on the
field, and still sustained an injury. Don't worry, it's not
the end of the world - just the beginning of a healing process.
Read on to find out what this process is and how you can deal with
a sports injury.
What Are Sports Injuries?
Sports injuries are injuries that typically occur while
participating in organized sports, competitions, training sessions,
or organized fitness activities. These injuries may occur in teens
for a variety of reasons, including improper training, lack of
appropriate footwear or safety equipment, and rapid growth during
There are two general types. The first type is called an
acute traumatic injury
. Acute traumatic injuries usually involve a single blow from a
single application of force - like getting a cross-body block in
football. Acute traumatic injuries include the following:
- a crack, break, or shattering of a bone
- a bruise, known medically as a
- caused by a direct blow, which may cause swelling and bleeding
in muscles and other body tissues
- a stretch or tear of a muscle or tendon, the tough and narrow
end of a muscle that connects it to a bone
- a stretch or tear of a ligament, the tissue that supports and
strengthens joints by connecting bones and cartilage
- a scrape
- a cut in the skin that is usually deep enough to require
The second type of sports injury is called an
. Chronic injuries are those that happen over a period of
time. Chronic injuries are usually the result of repetitive
training, such as running, overhand throwing, or serving a ball in
tennis. These include:
- tiny cracks in the bone's surface often caused by
repetitive overloading (such as in the feet of a basketball
player who is continuously jumping on the court)
- inflammation of the tendon caused by repetitive
- growth plate overload injuries such as
Often overuse injuries seem less important than acute injuries.
You may be tempted to ignore that aching in your wrist or that
soreness in your
, but always remember that just because an injury isn't
dramatic doesn't mean it's unimportant or will go away on
its own. If left untreated, a chronic injury will probably get
Sports Injuries on Your Body
You may think of your back or your arms and legs as the only
places where you could get hurt while playing, but you can get a
sports injury anywhere on your body, including your face, neck,
head, back, sex organs, hands, and feet.
Head and Neck Injuries
Head injuries include
, contusions, fractures, and hematomas. A
is a violent jarring or shock to the head that causes a
temporary jolt to the brain. If severe enough, or recurrent,
concussions can cause brain damage but fortunately this is not
common in teens. A
is a bleeding or pooling of blood between the tissue layers
covering the brain or inside the brain. All of these injuries can
be caused by impact to the head from a fall, forceful shaking of
the head, a blow to the head, or whiplash.
is an injury to the neck caused by an abrupt jerking motion of
wear helmets for contact sports and when doing activities like
biking and in-line skating to prevent head injuries.
Neck injuries are among the most dangerous. You can hurt your
neck through a sudden traumatic injury in sports like mountain
climbing, skydiving, horseback riding, gymnastics, diving, rugby,
judo, or boxing.
Neck injuries include strains, fractures, contusions, and
sprains. Another very common sports-related neck injury is a
stinger or burner from stretched nerves in the neck. Most neck
injuries are caused by impact to the head or neck sustained during
a fall or a blow. Your neck can also be injured a little at a time.
Too much strain on your neck can cause increasing pain, sometimes
only on one side of your neck. Sometimes you may feel only a slight
pain when you move a certain way.
If the injury is severe and there is a chance that the neck
might be injured, it's very important to keep the injured
person still with the head held straight while someone calls for
emergency medical help. If the person is lying on the ground, do
try to move him or her.
try to move someone who may have a neck injury - a mishandled
neck fracture could lead to permanent paralysis or even
How do these injuries happen? Serious head and neck injuries
occur most often in athletes who participate in contact sports
(like football or rugby) or sports with the potential for falling
accidents, such as horseback riding.
Back injuries include sprains, fractures, contusions, stress
fractures, and strains and are caused by twists or
overexertion of back muscles during bending or lifting movements.
These injuries can occur in contact sports like football and ice
hockey or in
, figure skating, gymnastics, dancing, baseball, and
When it comes to injuries to the sex organs, guys usually suffer
more trauma than girls because the penis and
are outside the body and lack natural protection during contact
sports. Guys should
wear athletic supporters, or in some sports a cup, to protect the
genitals from serious injury.
Injuries to the uterus or ovaries are rare, but breast injuries
are common complaints among teen girls. As the breasts
develop, they can often be sore, and a blow from a softball or a
jab from an elbow, for example, can be painful. Girls should wear
supportive sports bras while playing sports or exercising.
Hand and Wrist Injuries
Hand, finger, and wrist injuries include fractures,
dislocations, and sprains and often occur in contact sports such as
football, lacrosse, and hockey. Hand injuries can result from a
fall that forces the hand or fingers backward, a forceful impact to
the hands, or a direct blow.
Foot injuries can include ligament strains, stress fractures,
heel bruises, and swollen growth plates. Because your feet support
all of your weight and must absorb a lot of force over and over
again, they can be particularly susceptible to injury. Another
reason some teens may suffer foot injuries is because of
differences in their feet. For example, some people have flat feet
or high arches. These differences don't mean that sports should
be avoided, but it does mean that precautions, such as a special
shoe insert, may be needed.
Taking Care of Sports Injuries
If your pain progressively increases with activity (what sports
medicine doctors call an "upward crescendo") and causes
swelling, limping, or loss of range of motion, you need to see a
doctor as soon as possible.
What kinds of pain should you be on the lookout for? Any injury
that results in swelling, numbness, intense pain or tenderness,
stiffness, or loss of flexibility should be taken seriously.
You should also know the difference between soreness and chronic
pain. Soreness is temporary, but chronic pain continues over a
greater length of time. For example, it's not always necessary
to see a doctor right away if your shoulder is sore, but you should
schedule an appointment if the pain is worsening at any time or if
it persists for a week or more. You should also see a doctor
if your pain progresses from happening only after playing to
happening during sports or if you notice it when you wake up or are
doing daily activities.
The most important thing to do when you suspect you are injured
is to stop doing whatever sport has caused the injury right away
and go see a doctor. For more severe or complicated injuries, it
may be best to see a doctor who specializes in sports medicine.
The doctor will examine your injury and use diagnostic tools
such as X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine
the extent of your injury. MRI allows doctors to see soft tissues
more clearly than X-rays or CT scans do.
Once the doctor knows the full extent of your injury, he or she
usually will start with conservative treatment techniques such as
rest and ice to help decrease swelling. Pain relief and
anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen (like Advil
or Motrin) may be prescribed. Splints, casts, and surgery also
may be needed, depending on the injury.
One of three things will happen next. Your doctor may:
- recommend that you not play while you heal
- that you play and use a protective device (a knee brace or
wrist guard, for example)
- that you undergo rehabilitation (physical therapy)
Sports medicine doctors won't let you play if you are at
risk for getting another injury or aggravating an injury you are
Getting Back in the Game
If your doctor has asked you to stop playing, your #1 question
is probably "When can I play sports again?" This depends
on your specific injury, so make sure you discuss this with
your doctor. There are things you can do while injured to stay
fit without making your injury worse - but make sure you check with
your doctor first. These activities are known as cross training,
and they include using stationary cycles, swimming, water therapy,
and rowing machines.
Your rehabilitation program will also help you stay fit as you
recover. Rehabilitation, or rehab, is the process that gets you
back in shape and ready for action again. Rehab may be part of your
treatment program and can include exercise, manual therapy from a
physical therapist (a specialist who is trained to help you recover
from a sports injury), and technology such as ultrasound.
Ultrasound equipment is used to heat the injured area. This heat
relieves pain, promotes healing, and increases your range of
What can you do to protect yourself from getting hurt again? Use
protective gear - such as helmets for contact sports like football
- that is appropriate to the specific sport.
When you return to play, you might need some new protective
gear, including modified shoes (such as those with inserts or arch
supports or those designed for use in a particular sport), tapings
(tape used to wrap a knee, for example, to provide extra support),
knee and elbow braces, and mouth guards. These devices help support
and protect your body part from strains, direct blows, and possible
To help prevent reinjury, be sure to warm up adequately before
practice and games. Remember to take it slow when you first get
back into your sport and gradually build back up to your preinjury
Also, know your limits. If the previously injured part (or any
body part) begins to hurt, stop immediately and rest.
Don't delay in seeking medical attention if the pain
persists. It's your body's way of telling you something is
So, play, but play safe. Try to learn from your experience and
do the things that can help you avoid getting hurt again.
Amy Stanford, MSN, CNP
Date reviewed: June 2007
Originally reviewed by:
Joseph A. Congeni, MD
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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