Playing sports and taking regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. For example, exercise can protect against heart problems, prevent obesity and reduce the risk of osteoporosis by increasing bone density. But sports injuries can affect men and women of all ages and abilities.
Sports injuries can affect all joints, muscles and ligaments. The nature of the sport can determine which joints are most at risk. Tennis, for example, increases the risk of shoulder and elbow problems, whereas jogging increases the likelihood of knee and ankle injuries.
Problems can be due not only to direct collision injuries, or trips and falls, but from a wide range of issues.
Causes of sports injuries can include:
- Inadequate preparation for sport. Warm-up exercises are essential to increase the blood flow to the muscles and make them more flexible, thus preparing you for activity.
- Post-exercise cooling down is also important as it can help to prevent next day stiffness.
- Inappropriate training such as doing too much, repeating the same activities and not having enough ‘rest’ days.
- Improper equipment such as wearing the wrong type of sports shoes.
- Incorrect technique and posture.
- Returning to sport too soon following an injury.1
Warming up and cooling down
A warm-up should be performed prior to all exercise. The main two reasons for this are to improve performance and to decrease the risk of injury. A good warm up will increase the temperature of muscles as they work better at a temperature of 40 degrees,2 increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles to help them pump, and increase the range of motion on joints that may be used during the exercise, thus reducing the risk of injury.
A warm up should involve any type of movement that raises the heart beat such as jogging, cycling or skipping. It can be useful to choose a warm up that is most suitable and relevant to the sport about to be undertaken, so as to ensure that the joints are well prepared. This should then be followed by a stretching routine. It is important to stretch after you have done the initial pulse raising movements so that you are stretching muscles that are warmed and more flexible. This can be crucial in preventing the occurrence of injuries. There are various types of stretching that can be done: static stretching on specific muscles or dynamic stretching involving movement. A sports therapist will be able to advise you on what may be suitable for you.
A warm down is another area that is often overlooked. However is it just as important, as warming down enables the heart rate to slow, helps pump waste products such as lactic acid away from the muscles, and brings fresh blood and oxygen to the muscles, helping them heal quicker. Gentle jogging followed by a walk and then some gentle stretching, can go a long way in preventing muscle soreness.
Pain during or after exercise is a signal that your body may be having problems that shouldn’t be ignored.
If you have experienced severe pain, extensive bruising, or immediate swelling you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. However, for mild sprains and strains you can apply the RICE principles as soon as possible to help start recovery and speed up the healing process.
RICE stands for:
Rest – continuing to exercise a damaged muscle, joint or ligament can turn a minor problem into a major one. A rest from sport for the first 72 hours following injury helps promote healing.
Ice – apply an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables (wrapped in a damp tea towel to prevent ice burns) immediately for 20-30 minutes, and repeat every two hours. Reduce the
time to 10-20 minutes if you are applying ice over a bony area like your ankle. Applying heat during the first 72 hours is not advisable.
Compression – a compression bandage such as a tubigrip, will help reduce swelling. Make sure you don’t apply it too tightly. If unsure seek advice.
Elevation – elevate the injured part whenever possible. Ideally this should be above the level of your heart. If the injured area can be elevated, do not apply compression at the same time.
Physiotherapy, sports massage and osteopathy can offer effective treatments for sports injuries by relieving symptoms and promoting healing, and can also help reduce your risk of injury.
Seeing a therapist can help with assessing and diagnosing any problems, helping you understand what’s wrong and explaining how you can avoid further problems.