Sports Medicine

What is a sports injury?

Obviously, some sports are more dangerous than others. For example, contact sports such as football can be expected to result in a higher number of injuries than a non-contact sport such as swimming. However, all types of sports have a potential for injury, whether from the trauma of contact with other players or from overuse or misuse of a body part.

The most common sports-related injuries include:

  • Sprain. A sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament (the tissue that connects two bones) caused by trauma such as a fall, twist, or blow to the body. In a mild sprain, a ligament is stretched, but the joint remains stable and is not loosened. A moderate sprain partially tears the ligament, causing the joint to be unstable. With a severe sprain, ligaments tear completely or separate from the bone. This loosening interferes with how the joint functions. You may feel a tear or pop in the joint. Although the intensity varies, all sprains commonly cause pain, swelling, bruising, and inflammation. The ankle is the most commonly sprained joint. And a sprained ankle is more likely if you've had a previous sprain there. Repeated sprains can lead to ankle arthritis, a loose ankle or tendon injury.
  • Strain. Strains are a twist, pull and/or tear of a muscle and/or tendon (cords of tissue that connect muscles to bones). With a mild strain, the muscle or tendon is stretched or pulled slightly. A moderate strain over-stretches or slightly tears the muscle and/or tendon, causing some loss of muscle function. In severe strains, the muscle and/or tendon is partially or completely ruptured, resulting in serious injury. Typical symptoms include pain, muscle spasm, muscle weakness, swelling, inflammation and cramping. Strains occur most often in the back and hamstring muscles.
  • Shin Splint. Shin splint refers to pain and tenderness along or just behind the large bone in the lower leg (the tibia), which usually develops after rigorous exercise, sports, or repetitive activity. This repetitive activity can lead to inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and thin layer of tissue covering the bone of the tibia, causing pain.
  • Concussion. Concussions are a traumatic brain injury caused by a blow or jolt to the head that causes the soft tissue of the brain to knock against the skull's bony surface. Although they range from mild to severe, they're all serious injuries that can harm the way the brain works. For many of these injuries, the athletes never lose consciousness yet still suffer significant damage. Head injuries can be far more serious than they first appear. Any loss of consciousness, however brief, signals a need for medical attention.

What treatment is available?

RICE Therapy

For minor injuries, the best treatment is RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation:

  • Rest. Rest doesn't mean bed rest. It means taking a break from the activity that caused the injury or any movements that cause pain. In fact, if you can continue at least mild exercise without pain, that can help you heal more quickly. Exercise promotes blood flow, one way the body heals itself.
  • Ice. Ice is an effective, cheap, nonprescription pain reliever that can numb the injured area and reduce swelling. This is most effective immediately after the injury. The longer you wait, the less it will help. Apply the ice pack for 20 minutes, then remove for 20 minutes. If that's too uncomfortable, leave it on for 20 minutes every hour. Continue as often as you feel comfortable over the next day or so. Try using shaved or crushed ice instead of cubes, which tend to have sharp edges.
  • Compression. Several products compress an injured area. An elastic bandage is probably best because you can also use it to secure an ice bag. Wrap the injured area with a layer or two of bandage, apply the ice pack and continue wrapping. Make sure you don't apply any compression device so tightly that you cut off circulation, but it needs to be tight enough to help prevent fluid from accumulating.
  • Elevation. This means getting the injured part above the level of your heart. That's probably easiest at night in bed. Although you can prop up your leg with pillows, a more effective way is to slip a dresser drawer or a suitcase between the mattress and box spring.

With RICE, you should see improvements within 24 to 36 hours. If your injury doesn't improve, call your physician.