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How to Prevent Sports Injuries and What to Expect if You Get Hurt Anyway

Lakeland Health's Dr. Joseph Farber examines a football player experiencing joint pain.

Sports injuries are a risk for people of all ages and all activity levels. Whether you’re a serious athlete, just getting back into exercise, or simply going through the motions of everyday life, you can get hurt. Here are a few tips to help prevent injury and a quick run-down of what to expect if you experience a sprain, strain, or tear.

PREVENTION

The following tips apply both to specific athletic activities, and in everyday life. For instance, reaching up high for something on a shelf isn’t a workout, but if you don’t regularly stretch and you reach at the wrong angle, you could still hurt yourself. The orthopedic specialists at Lakeland Health recommend you:

  • Warm up properly before any physical activity
  • Stretch regularly to improve muscles’ ability to contract and relax
  • Alternate exercising muscle groups at least every other day
  • Exercise opposing muscle groups to avoid imbalance, instability and injury (examples include training your quads and hamstrings, biceps and triceps, your back muscles as well as your abdominals)
  • Cool down properly after sports or exercise
  • When engaging in repetitive motions, alternate between tasks to give your body time to rest
  • If you’re working around the house, use the right tool for the job to minimize awkward motions your body isn’t designed for


TYPES OF INJURIES

Even the most careful people doing the most casual movements can sustain injury. Outside of bone breaks, there are two main kinds of sports injuries:

1. A sprain is a stretch or tear in a ligament, the bands of tissue that connect bones to other bones.

2. A strain is a stretch or tear in a muscle or tendon, the bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones.

Sprains and strains can often lead to bruising, pain, and swelling, but the extent of the injury will dictate the symptoms, intensity of the pain and course of treatment. In the case of a sprain, doctors grade the intensity at the following levels:

  • Mild
    Mild “Grade 1” sprains result in tenderness but not instability.
  • Medium
    Grade 2 sprains are more serious but still incomplete tears associated with some looseness in the joint.
  • Severe
    Completely torn or ruptured ligaments are Grade 3 sprains. It is often impossible for those with severe sprains to put any weight on the affected area.


WHAT TO EXPECT

Grade 1 sprains can usually be treated at home with the RICE method (rest, ice, compress, elevate), but more severe injuries will require additional treatment.

1. Imaging

Depending on the nature of your injury and the symptoms you experience, your doctor will order imaging to determine the exact nature of the injury. X-rays will reveal bone breaks or fractures, while MRIs are used to examine ligaments.

2. Treatment

Depending on what part of the body you injured and how intensely you injured it, your doctor might recommend:

  • Surgery to reconstruct a torn ligament
  • A cast to support healing bones
  • Crutches to give a lower body sprain relief from pressure and time to heal
  • A brace to provide stability and support for a sprained wrist or finger or hand
  • Active rest that gives the injured area the chance to heal on its own
  • Physical therapy or rehabilitation exercises

3. Rehab

Even if your treatment began with something other than physical therapy and rehabilitation, it will almost always end with these two things. The practice of slowly rebuilding strength and range of motion in the injured area can be quick and mindless for minor injuries – you keep your weight off it for a few days then slowly get the body part back in action.

For more serious injuries, you’ll probably be referred to a professional physical therapist who will teach you to do specific exercises that will strengthen the injured area and develop other relevant muscles to prevent re-injury.

Whether you’ve recently experienced a sprain or strain or have been dealing with chronic joint pain for years, the orthopedic surgeons at Lakeland Health can help get you back to moving freely again and living the life you love. Learn more and find a physician at www.lakelandhealth.org/ortho.

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