All athletes know that playing sports isn’t just about competition and having fun. Most athletic activities are packed with serious health benefits over and above the obvious. Sports improve your mood, your concentration, your sex life, discipline, self-confidence, and attitude. They cut depression, stress, anxiety, stimulate your mind and can even help build your leadership skills.
On the other hand, sports are also synonymous with injuries. Whether you’re into team activities like football, soccer, hockey or individual sports like running and skiing, it’s quite likely you’ve spent time on the bench. In fact, with ten million sports injuries last year alone you may have even spent a few hours in the hospital.
Many injuries are the result of an insufficient warm-up routine or are due to improper pacing and training higher than your skill or experience can justify. Over-use injuries meanwhile, those which build up over a long period of time, account for about half of all incidents. Finally, basketball and baseball are each way up there on the list of the most risky sports, accounting for approximately 20% and 18% respectively of the total reported injuries in a list of the 10 most popular sports.
“Everyone pushes their bodies to the limit, it’s just a matter of whether you tip over the edge or not and unfortunately I tipped over the edge through my training. Unfortunately these are uncontrollable things. This is what we have to do as athletes.” – 2012 Olympian Sally Pearson
Meanwhile, and perhaps unsurprisingly, sports activities for kids are also high up in the list, with an estimated five million sports-related injuries every year. In fact, the United States’ CDC (Center for Disease Control) recently published that children ages 5 to 14 account for nearly 40 percent of all sports-related injuries treated in hospitals each year.
We’ve compiled a list of the top 5 most common injuries of 2016 in order of least to most frequent, and we’ve included some ways you can avoid becoming a statistic for 2017.
5. Shin Splints
The bane of runners everywhere, shin splints are often the result of over-extending yourself, exercising at much higher orders of exertion than you’re accustomed to. There’s a good chance you have a shin splint if you’re out running and experience a sudden streak of pain down your leg. If the pain is over the top, you may even have a stress fracture in your bone, and in that case, you should head to the hospital. Otherwise, if the pain is manageable with ice and over-the-counter medications, you should simply get lots of rest and try to minimize walking on that leg.
How to avoid this: Before doing any sports, including basic exercise, stretch. Visit your local gym to learn a solid stretching routine. Next, always wear the appropriate attire – in this case, shoes. If you’re playing football, cycling, or running and walking, choose shoes specific to the sport.
4. Hamstring Strain
What people generally consider the hamstring is a group of three muscles on the back of the upper leg, connecting the lower pelvis with each of the shin bones directly below the knee joint. The hamstring muscles work to bend the knee and straighten the hip, and a strain can occur when the much larger quadriceps muscles in front (which work to straighten the leg) place too much force on the hamstring group, causing a tear. This injury is most common in sports where players need to be agile and fast, such as football, basketball, soccer or tennis. Another common sport for this injury is the hurdles. In fact, the 2012 Olympic champion in 100 metre hurdles, Sally Pearson, suffered a hamstring injury just seven weeks out from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio forcing her to withdraw from the games altogether.
How to avoid this: Muscles that are stiff from non-use are great candidates for strains. Never forget stretching and warming-up before an event. It’s also a good idea to stop exercising when you feel tired.
3. Pulled Muscle
When a muscle is overstretched (pulled), microscopic tears develop which can cause significant pain. Such injuries are usually the result of slipping or losing your footing while performing a maneuver, of lifting an overly heavy object, or throwing something with tremendous force. Often too, these issues are exacerbated by fatigue or over-exertion. While heat, cold, massage, and medications are usually sufficient for pain and healing, more severe strains can require medical treatment.
How to avoid this: Muscles that are stiff from non-use are great candidates for strains. Never forget stretching and warming-up before an event. It’s also a good idea to stop exercising whenever you feel tired.
2. Tennis Elbow
Despite its name, this condition also affects baseball players, golfers, and cricket players, basically anyone who plays a sport that has repetitive hand, wrist, elbow, and arm movements, especially while gripping an object, such as a bat or club. With tennis elbow, the muscle and ligaments that surround the elbow have microscopic tears which are the result of either a sudden hit, or over-use over a longer term. It most commonly impacts the most dominant arm and it affects around 3% of the population.
How to avoid this: Your best defence against tennis elbow is ensuring that your arm is strong and that your muscles are stretched, limber and flexible. You should also strengthen the muscles in your shoulder and upper back to absorb some of the stress on your elbow. It’s also a wise move to consult a professional to ensure you’re using equipment properly and in the most ergonomic fashion.
1. Runner’s Knee
Anyone who is often on the move, bending their knees, can be affected by runner’s knee. It’s easily the most commonly-treated sports injury. Whether you’re a swimmer, a hockey player, a cyclist, or an Olympic long-jumper, your knees are candidates for injury. Also called ‘patellofemoral pain syndrome’, runner’s knee refers to the pain you feel as the result of a number of potential knee problems. The pain can be everything from a dull ache to a hot poker, and occurs anytime you bend your knees, as in for example, when you climb stairs or walk downhill. Generally, you suffer from runner’s knee because, a) your knee sustains a blow, b) any one of your lower body bones are out of alignment, c) your thigh muscles are unbalanced, d) you have arch problems, or e) you are the victim of an over-use injury.
How to avoid this: Use only high-quality running shoes with strong support, and make sure to replace them once their wear affects your gait. Whenever possible, avoid running on concrete. Asphalt is a better choice, and even more so, turf or grass. Also, as in other exercises, physical fitness is key. Make sure your thigh muscles are strong, and maintain a healthy weight. Finally, if you’ve suffered from runner’s knee, wear a knee brace.