How to Prevent and Treat 9 Common Sports Injuries

Tennis Player Holding Her Injured Knee

If you’re an athlete of any age, you know that your sport can land you on the injured list for months. This interruption in your flow proves distressing, but by working out correctly, you can prevent many injuries. When you do get hurt, you can recover more quickly by doing the right things. 

Taking Care of Common Sports Injuries

What are some of the most common sports injuries, and how do you remedy them? You can safely treat many injuries at home, but others require immediate medical intervention to prevent disability or disfigurement. Prepare yourself, so you know what to do if any of the following nine scenarios occur. 

1. Strains

Muscle strains are one of the most common sports injuries, which occur in everyone, from casual weekend warriors to diehard gym rats. Muscle strains happen when the fibers become overstretched or torn, usually as the result of overuse or improper form. The best way to prevent muscle strain is to learn what you’re doing before you hit the gym or practice field. 

If you’re new to working out, consider a personal trainer. Many fitness facilities offer one or two free sessions with membership, so take advantage of these services. When you try a new form of exercise, take a class or two with a licensed instructor before striking out independently. They can help you master the proper technique. 

If you do suffer a muscle strain, practice RICE.

  • Rest: Avoid using the muscle group for a few days other than to perform the lightest tasks. Yes, you can lift your fork to your mouth with a strained bicep, but no performing curls. 
  • Ice: Ice the area to minimize swelling and inflammation. Wrap the ice in a towel — don’t apply it directly to your skin. Repeat every four hours. 
  • Compression: Compression eases swelling as well and protects blood flow to the area — as long as you don’t wrap it too tightly. You should be able to insert a finger under your bandage. 
  • Elevation: Raise the area even with the level of your heart. If you injured your calves, you have the perfect reason to kick up your feet! 

2. Sprains

The difference between a strain and a sprain is that the latter impacts the tough connective tissue called ligaments that connect your bones. The pain from such an injury is severe, and you’ll need to see a doctor. Your physician will perform an X-ray or CT scan to diagnose you and may order an MRI if the injury is complicated. 

The treatment for a sprain is RICE, but you may also need assistive devices like braces or crutches. In extreme cases, you may need surgery to repair the torn ligament. Proper technique can prevent some sprains. However, if you play impact sports like football, your chances of getting such an injury increase. 

3. Broken Teeth

If you’re working out and lose a tooth, get to the dentist without delay. Typically, you only have a 30-minute window to reinsert the tooth into the socket. Otherwise, you’ll need to go without or pay for a costly implant. 

Even if you don’t immediately lose a tooth, see your dentist if you knock one. If the gap between the bone and the tooth becomes infected, it could loosen down the line. Chipped teeth can expose the pulp and nerve endings to the air, causing excruciating pain.

4. Broken Bones

Broken bones require the attention of a medical practitioner in most cases. If you break a smaller finger or toe, you can safely buddy-tape it to a neighbor. However, if you drop a dumbbell on your big toe or the injury involves protruding bone, see the doctor. You may need to wear a cast to immobilize the area and heal. 

The best way to prevent broken bones is to wear the appropriate protective gear. Always cover your brain bucket with a helmet when doing any activity where a head injury may occur. Use elbow and shoulder pads when participating in workouts like skating, and learn to tape your ankle to provide it with extra stability if it is going through some rough times.

5. Rotator Cuff Injuries

Your shoulder is a unique ball-and-socket joint that can move in multiple ways — unless you injure it. You can experience acute tears or tendonitis, which can lead to the above condition. 

Your first line of treatment is RICE, but if symptoms persist or interfere with daily activities, call your doctor. In rare cases, you may need surgery. However, many injuries heal with rest and physical therapy. Prevent overuse injuries by cross-training. If you typically play tennis, spend one or two days a week biking or practicing yoga instead. 

6. Knee Injuries

Knee injuries are common, particularly among runners. If your injury results from a fall and the pain is severe, report to urgent care or the ER. You need to rule out broken bones and torn ligaments. 

If the pain develops gradually, talk to your primary care physician and practice RICE in the meantime. You could have patellar tendonitis, a frequent injury among those who participate in high-impact activities like jumping.

To prevent this painful condition, try to exercise on softer surfaces. If you must run on hard surfaces like concrete, cross-train with low-impact activities on alternating days. Always wear appropriate footgear and knee compression sleeves when necessary.

7. Back Pain

Many people experience frequent back pain due to degenerative disk disease (DDD), and moving more frequently can ease the ache of this condition. However, you can also strain your lower back muscles. How can you tell the difference? 

If your pain levels increase after sitting in one position for some time, you likely have arthritis of the spine or DDD. However, if resting makes you feel better, it’s probably a muscle strain. See your doctor if the pain doesn’t subside, or if you experience bowel or bladder changes. Also, remain aware of numbness or tingling, which can indicate damage to the nerves of the spine. 

8. Hypothermia

If you live in a cold climate — and even the desert southwest gets freezing sometimes — hypothermia poses a risk when you workout outdoors. The condition frequently occurs when you exercise and get sweaty. Then, as you cool down, your core temperature drops. You can also develop frostbite in areas exposed to extreme temperatures. 

Symptoms of hypothermia include a dull, glassy stare. You might feel extremely drowsy, and you’ll shiver all over. Treatment for hypothermia involves getting to a warm area and removing any damp clothing. You should call 911 if you suspect this condition in someone you love.

To prevent hypothermia in yourself, practice the buddy system for outdoor workouts. At the very least, tell someone where you’re going and for how long so that they know to look for you if you don’t return promptly. 

9. Heat Exhaustion

Extreme heat can kill every bit as much as freezing temperatures. Heat-related injuries frequently occur in outdoor exercisers unaccustomed to the climate, although they can happen even if you’re familiar with your turf. 

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, headaches, nausea, and confusion. Your skin becomes pale, and you begin sweating profusely. If you experience these symptoms, slow down. Stop exercising and get yourself into a shady, cool area. When left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to deadly heat stroke, so don’t try to push through these symptoms. 

Stay Safe Out There!

young fit woman doing crossfit and holding her knees

You can prevent many sports injuries by practicing proper form and common sense. If an unfortunate situation does occur, make sure you know what to do!

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Kate Harveston

Written by Kate Harveston

Kate Harveston is a women’s health writer from Pennsylvania, and the writer and editor of So Well, So Woman. You may have seen her over at sites like Greatist, POPSUGAR, Thought Catalog, Bust or YourTango. Kate enjoys writing about women’s reproductive health and aims to use So Well, So Woman to bring a unique voice to the reproductive, sexual, relationship and mental health issues that young women are facing growing up in today’s world.

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