The term “sports injury,” in the broadest sense, refers to the kinds of injuries that most commonly occur during sports or exercise.
Some sports injuries result from accidents; others are due to poor training practices, improper equipment, lack of conditioning, or insufficient warm-up and stretching.
Although virtually any part of your body can be injured during sports or exercise, the term is typically reserved for injuries that involve the musculoskeletal system, which includes the muscles, bones, and associated tissues like cartilage.
Preventing injuries in children is a team effort, requiring the support of parents, coaches, and the kids themselves. Here’s what each should do to reduce injury risk.
What parents and coaches can do:
- Try to group youngsters according to skill level and size, not by chronological age, particularly during contact sports. If this is not practical, modify the sport to accommodate the needs of children with varying skill levels.
- Match the child to the sport, and don’t push the child too hard into an activity that she or he may not like or be physically capable of doing.
- Try to find sports programs where certified athletic trainers are present. These people, in addition to health care professionals, are trained to prevent, recognize, and give immediate care to sports injuries.
- See that all children get a preseason physical exam.
- Don’t let (or insist that) a child play when injured. No child (or adult) should ever be allowed to work through the pain.
- Get the child medical attention if needed. A child who develops any symptom that persists or that affects athletic performance should be examined by a health care professional. Other clues that a child needs to see a health professional include inability to play following a sudden injury, visible abnormality of the arms and legs, and severe pain that prevents the use of an arm or leg.
- Provide a safe environment for sports. A poor playing field, unsafe gym sets, unsecured soccer goals, etc., can cause serious injury to children.
What children can do:
- Be in proper condition to play the sport. Get a preseason physical exam.
- Follow the rules of the game.
- Wear appropriate protective gear.
- Know how to use athletic equipment.
- Avoid playing when very tired or in pain.
- Make warm-ups and cool-downs part of your routine. Warm-up exercises, such as stretching or light jogging, can help minimize the chances of muscle strain or other soft tissue injury. They also make the body’s tissues warmer and more flexible. Cool-down exercises loosen the muscles that have tightened during exercise.
Treatment often begins with the RICE method. Here are some other things your doctor may do to treat your sports injury.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Your doctor may suggest that you take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as aspirin or ibuprofen. These drugs reduce swelling and pain. You can buy them at a drug store. Another common drug is acetaminophen. It may relieve pain, but it will not reduce swelling.
Immobilization is a common treatment for sports injuries. It keeps the injured area from moving and prevents more damage. Slings, splints, casts, and leg immobilizers are used to immobilize sports injuries.
In some cases, surgery is needed to fix sports injuries. Surgery can fix torn tendons and ligaments or put broken bones back in place. Most sports injuries don’t need surgery.
Rehabilitation is a key part of treatment. It involves exercises that step by step get the injured area back to normal. Moving the injured area helps it to heal. The sooner this is done, the better. Exercises start by gently moving the injured body part through a range of motions. The next step is to stretch. After a while, weights may be used to strengthen the injured area.
As injury heals, scar tissue forms. After a while, the scar tissue shrinks. This shrinking brings the injured tissues back together. When this happens, the injured area becomes tight or stiff. This is when you are at greatest risk of injuring the area again. You should stretch the muscles every day. You should always stretch as a warmup before you play or exercise.
Don’t play your sport until you are sure you can stretch the injured area without pain, swelling, or stiffness. When you start playing again, start slowly. Build up step by step to full speed.
Although it is good to start moving the injured area as soon as possible, you must also take time to rest after an injury. All injuries need time to heal; proper rest helps the process. Your doctor can guide you on the proper balance between rest and rehabilitation.
Other therapies include mild electrical currents (electrostimulation), cold packs (cryotherapy), heat packs (thermotherapy), sound waves (ultrasound), and massage.