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Sports Injuries: How to Stay in the Game

Nothing is more frustrating than finally getting involved in an activity you enjoy, only to hurt yourself and be forced into a prolonged rehabilitation period. Although some injuries may be unavoidable, proper conditioning and attention to the details of warm-ups, cool-downs, and stretching will help keep you off the disabled list.

An Ounce of Prevention...

Preventing injuries requires both common sense and careful preparation. By following a few basic principles, you can help ensure that your activity won’t put you out of commission.

  • Warm Up: This is the number one tenet of injury prevention, consisting of three to five minutes of low-level activity followed by a few minutes of stretching.
  • Stay Flexible: Stretching during the warm-up and cool down phases will help prevent muscle pulls and strains, as well as the general aches and pains that can occur after exercising.
  • Build Gradually: Start out slowly and build up gradually in intensity and duration of activity. “Weekend athletes” are famous for trying to do too much, too soon. Don’t fall into this trap.
  • Be Prepared: Use the right equipment for your sport, whether it’s a good pair of running shoes, or knee pads for roller-blading. Be sure it’s in good condition and is appropriate for your skill level (e.g., skis for beginners vs. experts).
  • Rehydrate: Water is the best sports drink and you should drink plenty of it before, during and after exercise — especially in warm weather. Keep drinking it throughout the day.
  • Avoid Extremes: Try not to exercise outdoors in extreme hot or cold weather, but, if you do, be sure to dress properly. Use caution against heat exhaustion or, at the other extreme, frostbite.
  • Cool Down: Gradually decrease the intensity of your activity to restore a normal heart rate. Post-exercise stretching should not be overlooked.

Injury Identification

Being physically active shouldn’t be painful, but occasionally, injuries do occur. The most common ones are often what sports physicians call “overuse” injuries — usually a result of trying to do too much, too soon.

General muscle aches and pains are normal when you start a new activity or increase the intensity or duration of exercise, although proper stretching during the cool-down phase can help prevent much of the “day-after” muscle soreness. Pain in joints or ligaments, on the other hand, is typically cause for concern.

The most common types of injuries are:

  • Muscle pulls and strains: Tears in tendon and muscle fiber, due most frequently to improper stretching.
  • Sprains: Tears in the ligaments that connect bones. These tears typically occur when joints are suddenly turned in an awkward manner with some force.
  • Tendonitis: Inflammation of the tendons that can impair joint movement, usually caused by overuse or improper technique.
  • Stress fractures: Cracks in the bone’s surface, indicating trauma just short of a break.
  • Broken bones: Fractures to the skeletal structure, usually obvious due to severe pain, and always requiring medical attention.

Self Treatment Guidelines

Fortunately, many of the most common injuries can be treated at home, after you’ve assessed the severity of the injury and have determined that medical advice is not required. For strains and sprains, the most commonly recommended guidelines are easily remembered by the acronym R-I-C-E, for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation:

  • Rest the injured area immediately to cut down on blood circulation to that part of the body;
  • Apply ice immediately, which shrinks blood vessels and reduces swelling;
  • Compress the injured area with an elastic bandage or cloth to also help reduce swelling;
  • Elevate the damaged part to a level higher than the heart.

When to See a Doctor

Let Common sense guide your decision about whether to seek medical attention, using the degree of pain and the circumstances of the injury as guidelines. Generally, see a doctor if:

  • Pain is extreme or persistent;
  • You’ve suffered trauma to any joint, possibly affecting underlying connective tissue;
  • An injury does not heal in a reasonable time;
  • You develop an infection or fever;
  • You’re unsure about the severity of the injury

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