No one can discount the benefits of playing sports, but all it takes is one injury to keep you on the bench indefinitely. Collectively, more than 30 million children and teens participate in sports on a regular basis, sustaining more than 3.5 million injuries every year—and adults are even more liable to get injured when playing. You need to understand the most common injuries you're likely to face, and work to prevent or mitigate them at all costs.
These are some of the most commonly sustained injuries during recreational activities:
Strains are caused by the repetitive use or overuse of a muscle in a specific pattern of motion, or in an improper way. Generally mild, some strains can be excessively painful and prevent you from certain normal daily functions. Even though strains are largely preventable with proper warm-ups, stretches and form, they remain one of the most common injuries experienced during athletic events.
Sprains, even though they're only one letter different than strains, are an entirely different category of injury. Sprains happen when the ligaments in a joint are stretched or damaged in a way that causes swelling, but no formal dislocation. Ankle sprains are notoriously common, and often happen when landing incorrectly, or on uneven terrain. Sprains can be mild and unobtrusive, but can also be more painful than breaking a bone, taking weeks to months to fully heal.
Human knees often bear the brunt of impact-based sports, especially when they involve running. Those that involve jumping, like basketball, require even more strain on the knees. Over time, these repetitive impacts can take a toll on your knees, leaving you susceptible to chronic pain; plus, if you've ever had a knee injury in the past, you're more likely to experience a knee injury in the future.
You may not think of dental injuries as often as you think of things like strains and sprains, but the truth is that over 5 million teeth are knocked out every year, with over 600,000 emergency room visits due to dental injuries. Your mouth and teeth are sensitive, and most athletic events have flying objects that could easily take out a tooth if you aren't properly protected. Even running and falling face-first may be enough to cause a severe dental injury.
Shin splints refer to any kind of resonant pain in your shins after running repeatedly or changing your lower-body workout regimen. They usually come as a result of extended and unexpected stress, such as increasing your running mileage faster than your body could contend with. Most cases of shin splints will go away within a few days or weeks with a combination of rest, ice, compression and elevation, but the injury is common enough to warrant prevention strategies.
Fractures are breaks, whether partial or complete, in a bone of the body. They can occur in a number of sports and in a number of ways, but are often painful and can take weeks to fully heal.
Herniated discs are just one cause of sciatica, which occurs when excessive pressure or pinching affects the sciatic nerve in your lower back. The pain associated with sciatica can be severe, radiating from your lower back down the legs (though usually only affecting one side of the body). Fortunately, most cases of sciatica are temporary and can be remedied with non-operative treatments.
Helpful Ways to Avoid Injuries
Thankfully, you can avoid most injuries with the following strategies:
- Choose your activities carefully. Carefully consider which activities you take part in, as some sports bear a greater risk of injury than others—especially if you have a chronic condition or susceptibility to one of those injuries. For example, if you have bad knees, basketball may not be the best choice for participation.
- Warm up and stretch. Before participating in any exercise, you should spend at least 10 to 20 minutes warming up. Depending on the sport, this could include light jogging, specific exercises, and stretching. You'll also want to spend some time stretching your muscles after the game is over.
- Wear the proper protective gear. Wearing proper protective gear may feel obstructive in some cases, but it's worth wearing to reduce your risk of injury. Things like helmets, mouth guards, and even supportive wraps can significantly lower your risks.
Sports are good for you, both physically and mentally, so you shouldn't have to avoid them just to prevent the possibility of an injury. With the right strategy, you can reduce—though not eliminate—the threat of some of the most common injuries across the board.