If you are active in sports and exercise for leisure or competition, chances are you will experience at least a minor injury at some point. Though many injuries can be prevented, minor injuries are common among athletes.
Some of the most common sports injuries include sprains and strains, groin pulls, knee injuries (including a torn ACL), shin splints and tennis elbow (epicondylitis).
Sprains and Strains
The most common sports injuries are sprains and strains. A sprain is an injury to the ligament. Strains are injuries to the muscle fibers or tendons, also known as pulled muscles.
Ankle sprains are some of the most common sprains because the ligaments in the ankle are relatively weak. Minor ankle sprains typically heal in five days, while more severe ankle sprains may take three to six weeks to heal.
Exercise to prevent loss of strength and flexibility is important during recovery from an ankle sprain, although it’s important to consult with your physician or physical therapist to know what kinds of exercise you should do.
Pushing off in a side-to-side motion can strain or pull the muscle on the inner thigh muscles. Hockey, soccer, football and baseball players are most prone to groin injuries.
Groin pulls will heal in a few weeks with rest, compression and ice. Returning to activity before the groin has had time to heal can exacerbate the injury and require even more time to heal. If you experience swelling from a pulled groin muscle, see your doctor.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) connects the leg bone to the knee. A sudden stop, change in direction or hit from the side can either strain or tear the ACL. If your ACL tears completely, you will likely hear a “pop” sound.
A torn ACL is a severe yet common sports injury, and requires surgery to repair the tear. Recovery from this procedure usually takes five to six months.
An ache or throb in the shins is known as shin splints, and it is often caused by irritated or swollen muscles from overuse, stress fractures, weakness in the muscles of the hips or core or flat feet.
Shin splints often heal on their own with rest, ice, range-of-motion exercises, anti-inflammatory painkillers and support for the legs and feet, such as orthotic shoe inserts or neoprene sleeves. Shin splints may require physical therapy to identify and treat movement mechanics that may be contributing to the problem. In rare cases, such as that of a severe stress fracture that caused the shin splints, surgery may be necessary.
Tennis Elbow (epicondylitis)
Caused by repetitive use of the elbow, tennis elbow is common among tennis and golf players. It is inflammation in the elbow and is generally an irritation more than an injury, although it can cause tiny tears in the tendons in the elbow.
Tennis elbow should clear up with rest until the symptoms improve.
For most of these common injuries, the PRICE method of treatment applies.
P: Protect from further injury. More severe injuries can be protected with a splint, pad or crutch.
R: Restrict activity to prevent worsening the injury.
I: Apply ice immediately after a common injury to reduce swelling. Ice for 20 minutes every one to two hours for the first 48 hours after the injury. Avoid heat during this time, as heat may cause more swelling and inflammation.
C: Apply compression with a bandage to reduce swelling.
E: Elevate the injured area above the heart to reduce swelling.
Over-the-counter pain relievers are often successful in relieving pain from these common sports injuries. If the injury does not seem to get better after applying the PRICE method, or if you experience deformities, inability to bear weight, excessive swelling or changes in skin color, schedule an appointment with your doctor.