Sports injuries

Sports injuries are caused by sudden trauma or repetitive stress during athletic activities. Sports injuries can affect bones or ligaments, muscles, or tendons. Adults are less likely to suffer sports injuries than are children, who are more likely to hurt themselves because they:

  • have immature reflexes
  • can't recognize and judge risks
  • aren't very coordinated

Each year, about 3.2 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are injured while participating in athletic activities, accounting for 40% of all sports injuries. In fact, as many as 20% of children who play sports get hurt, andabout one fourth of their injuries are considered to be serious. More than 775,000 boys and girls under age 14 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries.

Injury rates are highest for athletes who play contact sports, but the most serious injuries are associated with individual activities. In any case, mostof these childhood sports injuries occur during practice or during unorganized athletic activity.

The most common sports injury is a bruise caused when blood collects at the injured area and discolors the skin. Sprains account for a third of all sportsinjuries. A sprain is a partial or complete tear of a ligament (a strong band of tissue that connects bones to one another and steadies joints).

A strain is a partial or complete tear of a muscle or a tendon (strong connective tissue that links muscles to bones). Inflammation of a tendon (tendinitis) and inflammation of one of the fluid-filled sacs that allow tendons to move easily over bones (bursitis) is usually caused by minor stress that keeps bothering the same part of the body. These conditions often occur at the sametime.

Fractures (usually the arm or leg) are another common sports-related injury.Sports activities rarely involve fractures of the spine or skull. The bones of the legs and feet are most susceptible to stress fractures, which occur when muscle strains make bones bend. Stress fractures are especially common in ballet dancers, long-distance runners, and in people whose bones are thin.

Shin splints are characterized by soreness and slight swelling of the front,inside, and back of the lower leg, and by sharp pain that develops and gradually gets stronger while exercising. Shin splints are caused by overuse or bystress fractures from repeated foot pounding associated with activities likeaerobics, long-distance running, basketball, and volleyball.

A compartment syndrome is a potentially debilitating condition in which the muscles of the lower leg grow too large to be contained within membranes thatenclose them. This condition is characterized by numbness and tingling. Untreated compartment syndrome can result in long-term disability.

Brain injury is the primary cause of fatal sports-related injuries. A concussion, which can occur even after a minor blow to the head, can cause loss of consciousness and may affect:

  • Balance
  • Comprehension
  • Coordination
  • Hearing
  • Memory
  • Vision.

Common causes of sports injuries include:

  • Athletic equipment that malfunctions or is used incorrectly
  • Falls
  • Forceful high-speed collisions between players
  • Wear and tear on areas of the body that are continually subjected to stress.

Symptoms include:

  • Instability or obvious dislocation of a joint
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Weakness.

Symptoms that persist, intensify, or reduce the athlete's ability to play without pain should be evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon. Prompt diagnosis canoften prevent minor injuries from becoming major problems, or causing long-term or lasting damage.

An orthopedic surgeon should examine anyone:

  • Who is prevented from playing by severe pain associated with acute injury
  • Whose ability to play has declined due to chronic or long-term consequences of an injury
  • Whose injury has caused visible deformities in an arm or leg.

The doctor will perform a physical examination, ask how the injury occurred,and what symptoms the patient has experienced. X rays and other tests may beordered. Anyone who has suffered a blow to the head should be examined immediately, and at five-minute intervals afterwards until normal comprehension hasreturned. The initial examination measures the athlete's:

  • Awareness
  • Concentration
  • Short-term memory

Follow-up evaluations of concussion test for:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Visual disturbances.

Treatment for minor sports injuries generally consists of:

  • Compressingthe injured area with an elastic bandage.
  • Elevation
  • Ice
  • Rest

Anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen) taken by mouth or as an injection into the swelling may be used to treat bursitis. Anti-inflammatory medications and exercises to correct muscle imbalances are usually used to treattendinitis. If the athlete keeps stressing inflamed tendons, they may rupture, and a cast or surgery is sometimes necessary to correct this condition. Orthopedic surgery may be needed to repair serious sprains and strains. Easinginflammation as well as restoring normal use and movement are the goals of treatment for overuse injuries.

Athletes who have been injured are usually advised to limit their activitiesuntil their injuries are healed. The doctor may suggest special exercises forathletes who have had several injuries. Athletes who have been severely injured may be advised to stop playing altogether.

Every child who plans to participate in organized athletic activity should have a pre-season sports physical. This special examination is performed by a pediatrician or family physician who:

  • Carefully evaluates the site of any previous injury
  • May recommend special stretching and strengtheningexercises to help growing athletes create and preserve proper muscle and joint interaction
  • Pays special attention to the cardiovascular and skeletal systems.

Telling the doctor which sport the athlete plays will help that physician determine which parts of the body will be subjected to the most stress. The doctor will then be able to suggest to the athlete steps to take to minimize thechance of getting hurt. Other injury-reducing game plans include:

  • Being in shape
  • Knowing and obeying the rules that regulate the activity
  • Not playing when tired, ill, or in pain
  • Not using steroids, which can improve athletic performance but cause life-threatening problems
  • Taking good care of athletic equipment and using it properly
  • Wearing appropriate protective equipment

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